After weeks of polling showing him with a comfortable lead, it appears that Benjamin Netanyahu will sneak back into office with his Likud/Yisrael Beiteinu alliance taking just 31 seats. (The two parties had more than 40 between them before the vote.) Overall, exit polls suggest right-wing parties will take 61-62 seats with 58-59 for the center-left.
The big surprise of the day will probably be the rise of the centrist Yesh Atid party, which came in second with 18-19 seats. Yesh Atid had gotten relatively little covereage in the Israeli andinternational media (certainly compared to Naftali Bennet's annexationist "Jewish Home" party) until it began to rise in the polls just days before the vote. Yesh Atid is led by journalist-turned-politican Yair Lapid, son of the legendary secularist crusader Tommy Lapid. Yair may not go as far as his dad in expressing stridently anti-religious views, but his apparent success should lead to some questioning of the popular "death of Israeli secularism" narrative.
There's likely to be quite a bit of discussion in the coming days about why no one saw Lapid coming. Though of course, as Netanyahu well knows, even the exit polls in Israel are not always that reliable. On May 30, 1996, most Israelis went to sleep believing that the heavily favored Shimon Peres, who had served as caretaker Prime Minister since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, six months earlier, would remain in power. They awoke to find that Likud's then young and inexperienced leader, Netanyahu, had pulled off a historic upset.
As the Times of Israel's Raphael Ahren notes, it wasn't the last time Israeli pollsters would get it wrong:
In 2006, most pre-election polls shortly before election day predicted two seats for the Pensioners' party; four polls said the party wouldn't get any seats at all. It won seven - a substantial showing given that the Knesset has only 120 members.
The final polls ahead of the 2009 elections - published four days before the voting day opened - were all wrong to a greater or lesser degree. Four out of six polls predicted 23 seats for Likud, which ended up winning 27. Four surveys forecast Yisrael Beytenu winning 19 mandates, four more than it actually received.
According to Haaretz, the final polls before of the 2006 and 2009 elections erred by an average of 18 and 19 Knesset mandates, respectively. Nate Silvers, they were not.
So what makes predicting Israeli elections so tough? Ahren's very thorough article blames small sample sizes -- Israeli pollsters often survey as few as 400-500 people -- as well as poor methodology: In a year when voter apathy was high, most pollsters surveyed "eligible" voters rather than "likely" voters, for instance.
The blogger "Carl in Jerusalem" says Israelis are poor poll-takers by character:
This is a country in which polling is not always accurate. Respondents often deceive the pollsters. Some respondents - like me - slam down the phone (otherwise you get called nearly every day because Israel is very politically active and there's a relatively small population).
But I suspect it's not that Israeli polls are particularly bad or Israelis are particularly uncooperative than the fact that Israel is simply a very small country with very complicated politics. Before this election, there were 17 parties in a Knesset with only 120 seats. A party going from 3 to 12 seats, as Jewish Home appears to have, counts as an earth-shattering development. In short, pollsters have a lot less margin for error in a country with fewer people than New Jersey.
There's also the fact that political alliances in Israel have a habit of shifting quickly and -- particularly this year -- it's much harder to define any given party's natural base. As Noah Efron recently wrote:
Unsurprisingly, this growing diversity within parties has come at a time when old voting blocs have begun to disintegrate. Although the million or so immigrants from the former Soviet Union still tend to oppose territorial compromise with the Palestinians and reject welfare-state economic policies that recall the brutal socialism of their birthplace, their political affiliations are increasingly spread across the political spectrum. Israeli Palestinians, though they are largely ignored by Jewish media and politicians during elections, will vote in larger numbers than ever for majority-Jewish parties, chiefly Labor. Settlers' votes are also spread among more political parties than in the past (though almost exclusively on the right). The same is true of Mizrahim, Haredim, and, no less, secular cosmopolitans.
The decline of the old voting blocs has come with a decline of old ideologies as well, on the right and on the left. Among the most notable losers in the Likud primaries was Benny Begin, son of Menachem Begin, the legendary founder of Likud and its first prime minister. The younger Begin represented perhaps the last of the old Likud ideologues, whose commitment to retaining the West Bank was matched, perhaps incongruously, by a commitment to liberal democracy blind to religious and ethnic background. Most politicians today, on the right and left, insist that they maintain consistent political opinions; few, however, will cop to having an ideology. In the past, ideology was de rigueur; now it is vaguely déclassé.
Taken together, these trends suggest that Israeli politics have recently lost definition and grown shaggier. They have changed from a French garden, sharp of line and in fine trim, into an English garden in which the shrubs and the trees have expanded into one another, and a skein of ivy stretches from this plant to that.
Efron's primary argument is that there are dramatic developments happening just below the surface in Israeli politics that are a lot more complicated than they look from they outside. Today's results would seem to bear that out.
(Plus, to be fair to Israeli pollsters, even Nate Silver hasn't fared so well when trying to apply his model outside the two-party, data-rich environment of American politics.)
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If the move goes ahead, the former French president could escape a planned top tax rate of 75 per cent in his home country.
He and wife Carla Bruni would be likely to settle in an affluent area such as South Kensington, and would become the most high-profile Gallic celebrity couple in the capital.
Mr Sarkozy is under investigation for corruption in France and if he does cross the Channel there will be outrage.
Details of the planned move were uncovered in a raid by fraud police on the Sarkozys’ Paris home last June. Mr Sarkozy lost his immunity from prosecution after being defeated by Socialist rival François Hollande in the May presidential election.
Investigative news website Mediapart claims the “first draft” of Mr Sarkozy’s London project was found by detectives examining his computer files.
Via: Zack Beauchamp
MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images
The crisis in Algeria prevented David Cameron from delivering a highly-anticipated speech in Amsterdam today, during which he planned to lay out his vision for the future of Britain's role in Europe. But excerpts were released to the media ahead of time:
"There are three major challenges confronting us today. First, the problems in the eurozone are driving fundamental change in Europe. Second, there is a crisis of European competitiveness, as other nations across the world soar ahead. And third, there is a gap between the EU and its citizens which has grown dramatically in recent years and which represents a lack of democratic accountability and consent that is - yes - felt particularly acutely in Britain," Cameron was due to say.
"There is a growing frustration that the EU is seen as something that is done to people rather than acting on their behalf. And this is being intensified by the very solutions required to resolve the economic problems. People are increasingly frustrated that decisions taken further and further away from them mean their living standards are slashed through enforced austerity or their taxes are used to bail out governments on the other side of the Continent," he was to add.
"More of the same will not secure a long-term future for the eurozone. More of the same will not see the EU keeping pace with the new powerhouse economies. More of the same will not bring the EU any closer to its citizens. More of the same will just produce more of the same," he was to say.
The British leader was to warn that: "If we don't address these challenges, the danger is that Europe will fail and the British people will drift towards the exit."
But he was also due to note: "I do not want that to happen. I want the European Union to be a success and I want a relationship between Britain and the EU that keeps us in it."
Cameron hasn't endorsed the idea of an in-or-out referendum -- favored by some members of his party -- but says that voters "want some changes to that relationship [with Europe] and they would like to be given a say."
Cameron's in a bit of a tough spot. He's not willing to go far enough in the euroskeptic direction for some Tories, but his partial embrace of their position puts him at odds with his coalition partner Nick Clegg, of the pro-European Liberal Democrats, as well as the Obama administration, which has cautioned London against considering a "Brixit" scenario.
You may recall last June, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves went medieval on Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in a Twitter tirade (Twirade?). Here's how it went down:
Let's write about something we know nothing about & be smug, overbearing & patronizing: after all, they're just wogs: http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/06/estonian-rhapsdoy/
Guess a Nobel in trade means you can pontificate on fiscal matters & declare my country a "wasteland". Must be a Princeton vs Columbia thing [Ilves went to Columbia for undergrad.]
But yes, what do we know? We're just dumb & silly East Europeans. Unenlightened. Someday we too will understand. Nostra culpa.
Let's sh*t on East Europeans: their English is bad, won't respond & actually do what they've agreed to & reelect govts that are responsible.
Now apparently, the whole affair -- which really only lasted for an afternoon -- is getting turned into an opera. FT's Beyond Brics blog explains:
Written by US composer Eugene Birman, it will be performed by the Tallinn Chamber Orchestra and conducted by Risto Joost during Tallinn Music Week on April 7.
According to the libretto’s author, Scott Diel: “‘Nostra Culpa’ (Our Fault) is a short 16 minutes operatic piece which takes up the age-old economic disagreement of austerity vs. stimulus”. Keynes couldn’t have put it better himself.
As FT's Rob Minto points out, even 16 minutes feels a bit long for a four-tweet feud. John Adams had a bit more to work with for Nixon in China. But I'm still curious to hear how it will turn out -- and who will be the hero.
One of the "Stories You Missed" we highlighted for 2012 was that the world is on the verge of eliminating Guinea worm -- a painful parasite that was once prevalent throughout Africa and southern Asia -- but has been reduced to just a few hundred cases in four African countries.
But former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, whose center has been at the forefront of efforts to eradicate the disease since the 1980s, warns that the violence in Mali may be complicating the final push to eliminate the disease:
In rebel-held areas of northern Mali, teams that remove worms and teach villagers how to protect their drinking water have been unable to operate since April, Ernesto Ruiz-Tiben, head of Guinea worm eradication for the Carter Center, said during a video news conference with Mr. Carter.
Mali had only seven of the world’s 542 confirmed cases in 2012, but three of them were detected in Niger among refugees from Mali, which suggests that the disease is spreading.
“We have no good sense of what the real case count is,” Dr. Ruiz-Tiben said. In 2006, he said, one infected student walked 250 miles north to the northern Kidal region of Mali and started an outbreak that spread worms to at least 400 others.
Polio, the other disease that along with Guinea worm is closest to eradication, has also received an unfortunate assist from political violence.
This is not your typical story of jobs being shipped overseas. The Guardian reports that a U.S. software developer working for a U.S.-based company was caught self-outsourcing during a routine network security check:
It was only after a thorough investigation that it was revealed that the culprit was not a hacker, but "Bob" (not his real name), an "inoffensive and quiet" family man and the company's top-performing programmer, who could be seen toiling at his desk day after day and staring diligently at his monitor.
For Bob had come up with the idea of outsourcing his own job – to China. So, while a Chinese consulting firm got on with the job he was paid to do, on less than one-fifth of his salary, he whiled away his working day surfing Reddit, eBay and Facebook.
Here's what he did with all his spare time:
When the company checked his web-browsing history, a typical "work day" for Bob was: 9am, arrive and surf Reddit for a couple of hours, watch cat videos; 11.30am, take lunch; 1pm, eBay; 2pm-ish, Facebook updates, LinkedIn; 4.40pm–end of day, update email to management; 5pm, go home.
The kicker, of course, is that "Bob" was doing a great job:
Meanwhile, his performance review showed that, for several years in a row, Bob had received excellent remarks for his codes which were "clean, well written and submitted in a timely fashion".
This outsourcing pioneer, who may have been running a similar scam, has now been fired. I would imagine his former colleagues probably don't appreciate him giving the bosses ideas.
This raises an interesting question, though. Bob had FedExed his physical RSA key, needed to access the company's network, to the Chinese firm -- obviously a no-no. But if his work hadn't required network access, would this actually be illegal? As long as Bob was ensuring that he work he was assigned got done to his boss's satisfaction, would it be immoral?
Freedom House released its 2013 Freedom in the World rankings today. Over on the main site, David Kramer and Arch Puddington make some recommendations for the Obama administration's second-term prioritiesbased on the report's findings.
Overall, it's not great news, with more countries showing declines in freedom than gains for the seventh year in a row. The most dramatic improvement was probably in Libya, formerly classed among the reports "worst of the worst" but is now classified as "partly free". Mali saw the most dramatic fall, going from "free" to "not free" thanks to this year's military coup and the Islamist takeover of much of the country.
But for my money, though it's still classified as "not free," the most eye-catching change may be Myanmar (Burma). Following this year's dramatic events, the country's political rights score improved from 7 to 6 and the civil liberties rating improved from 6 to 5 due to, as Freedom House puts it, "the successful participation of opposition parties in legislative by-elections and the continued easing of long-standing restrictions on the media, private discussion, public assembly, civil society, private enterprise, and other activities."
The improved scores mean tha a country that was until recently an international pariah and still partly under U.S. sanctions, is -- according to this survey anyway -- more free than the world's second largest economy.
Soe Than WIN/AFP/Getty Images
Back in December, after Queen Elizabeth attended a Cabinet meeting -- the first British monarch to do so since the American revolution -- I wrote a half-serious post wondering what's actually keeping her from taking back political power. But according to a Guardian investigation, she may already have more than most people realized:
Whitehall papers prepared by Cabinet Office lawyers show that overall at least 39 bills have been subject to the most senior royals' little-known power to consent to or block new laws. They also reveal the power has been used to torpedo proposed legislation relating to decisions about the country going to war.
The internal Whitehall pamphlet was only released following a court order and shows ministers and civil servants are obliged to consult the Queen and Prince Charles in greater detail and over more areas of legislation than was previously understood.
The new laws that were required to receive the seal of approval from the Queen or Prince Charles cover issues from higher education and paternity pay to identity cards and child maintenance. In one instance the Queen completely vetoed the Military Actions Against Iraq Bill in 1999, a private member's bill that sought to transfer the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the monarch to parliament. She was even asked to consent to the Civil Partnership Act 2004 because it contained a declaration about the validity of a civil partnership that would bind her.
Prince Charles has been asked for consent on 20 pieces of legislation. The law gives royal family power to review laws affecting their "hereditary revenues, personal property or personal interests of the Crown," though apparently those interests have been interpreted pretty widely, as the Guardian reports that the Queen's consent has been sought for bills dealing with subjects such as corporate manslaughter and child support payments.
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