Spring Forward

Next week (April 9) Israel will be holding its elections. We’re going to have the day off, and I hope everyone does their civic duty and votes.

Israel has a number of parties in the elections and when I was researching who to vote for, I found that many parties have only a few people on their lists and a handful of program points. Most parties in Israel know they have no chance of becoming the largest party putting their top person in the prime minister’s chair. They run because it’s important to have their voices in the Knesset. Israel is run by a coalition so they can sometimes be the swing vote that makes or breaks a bill or even a government coalition.

In this election, there is an actual race between two parties with full platforms: Likud run by Netanyahu and Blue and White led by a triumvirate of Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, and Moshe Ya’alon.

The popular vote is important, but it’s just the beginning of deciding who “wins” in a coalition system. The party that wins the popular vote will get the opportunity to form a coalition government. If that party can’t do it, the party with the next largest number of votes gets its chance.

Here’s my prediction: Netanyahu will “win” in spite of personal corruption scandals, his embarrassing family, and proof that bots created social media accounts to promote him (I wonder who the meddlers are?). He’s an incumbent – it will be his fifth term (think about how crazy that is!). He has his party faithful. He’s been working hard on coalition partners (distasteful as they may be and some barely over the threshold to run). People believe that his diplomatic skills and his excellent English are positive for Israel.

Even so, here’s my gratitude list for this election. I am thankful that

  1. The election cycle is only three and a half months long.
  2. Annoying text messages and calls from unknown numbers will end on April 9.
  3. I don’t watch enough Israeli TV to see all the political ads (those highlighted on social media are untranslatably horrible).
  4. I’ve managed to avoid seeing bus ads.
  5. We changed our clocks so I had one hour less of the election campaign.
  6. The election is in the spring when hope is renewed and we are reminded that this too shall pass.

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Wisteria in Liberty Bell Park

A citrus tree of some kind in my yard is starting to bloom and it smells wonderful!

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I didn’t pay any attention to this sage plant all winter and it bloomed anyway!

Hey, is that an elephant in the room?

With all the fuss about William Barr’s 4-page summary of the Mueller report, I decided it might be worthwhile to read it.

The line that caught my attention and the line that no one seems to be talking about is:

The report outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with those efforts.

 

Russian meddling is not alleged or suspected. It is a verifiable fact.

Since I didn’t see it mentioned anywhere, I thought, “How often does a foreign power interfere with elections?” There’s a Wikipedia page about it.

There we find that in the 2016 US election, Russia intervened, Ukraine tried, and there’s some suspicion about Saudi Arabia.

Guess who interferes in elections more than any other government in the world, and by a large margin too?

The. United. States.

One study indicated that the country intervening in most foreign elections is the United States with 81 interventions, followed by Russia (including the former Soviet Union) with 36 interventions from 1946 to 2000 – an average of once in every nine competitive elections.

This study was done by Dov Levin, an Israeli scholar who started his academic career at Haifa University.

His research shows that the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia use covert or overt “partisan election interventions.” Influence tends to swing the vote by 2 to 3 percent. Sometimes that’s enough, sometimes not. (He published his academic article in February 2016.)

He notes that two things need to happen in order for intervention to take place – he calls them motive and opportunity – “a great power must perceive its interests as being endangered by a certain candidate or party within a democratic target … a significant domestic actor must consent to, and willingly cooperate with, a proposed electoral intervention by the great power.” The willing actor need not be the candidate.

In September 2016, Levin published an article in the Washington Post giving a synopsis of his research and said that the Soviet Union/Russia had meddled unsuccessfully in US elections two times previously (1948 and 1984). At the time, he said that Russian interference would likely be ineffective as the United States is a “hard target,” but Putin’s end goal would be “anyone but Hillary.”

In December 2018, Levin published an article stating that it would be unlikely for Mueller to prove that Trump colluded with Russia.

if possible collusion between the Trump camp and Russia occurred along the lines of past cases, the number of people who would know or who were involved in the collusion in the Trump campaign is probably quite small. Many senior members of the Trump campaign, including some of those personnel with ties to Russia, would likely have had no clue of such collusion going on. It may well be possible that even Trump was kept in the dark by those in his campaign who might have conspired with Russia.

Another obvious difficulty is that colluders are not taking notes and keeping records of their activities. Anyone who has seen even one episode of Law & Order knows that you can’t prosecute without hard evidence.

And then I started wondering about the numbers in the 2016 election. Did Russian meddling have an effect?

I’m not a statistician, but here are a few things I found interesting.

  • The trend in the 2016 election was for most states to shift toward the Republican side.
  • In many cases, the shift was not enough to swing a blue state to a red state.
  • In 4 states, the margin of victory was less than 1 percent. Together they equal 50 Electoral College votes (or enough to change the election result).
    • Michigan
    • New Hampshire
    • Pennsylvania
    • Wisconsin
  • Compared with the 2012 election, only 1 state (29 EC votes) had a margin of victory of less than 1 percent, and in the 2008 election, it was 2 states (26 EC votes). In neither case was it enough to change the outcome of the election.
  • Michigan, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were blue states in the 2012 election, all shifted toward red, but only New Hampshire (4 EC votes) stayed blue.

Then I took an even closer look.

State Clinton Trump Other parties
Michigan 47.27% 47.5% 5.46%
Pennsylvania 47.46% 48.18% 5.08%
Wisconsin 46.45% 47.22% 7.09%

Neither major party got 50 percent of the vote, and the non-major parties got more than 3 percent of the vote (the number of votes Levin says a foreign power can influence). If Levin is correct and Putin wanted “anyone but Hillary” in office, these numbers seem to suggest that.

Let me add a few more statistics for comparison. These are popular vote percentages (due to rounding, they don’t always add up to exactly 100 percent).

Election Year Democrat Republican Other
2016 48.18% 46.09% 5.73%
2012 51.06% 47.2% 1.73%
2008 52.93% 45.65% 1.45%
2000 (Gore v. G.W. Bush) 47.87% 48.38% 3.75%
1992 (Clinton v. G.H.W. Bush v. Perot) 43.01% 37.45% 19.54%

I added the 2000 and 1992 elections to show that 3rd party candidates can have an influence on the elections – in 2000 in favor of the Republicans and in 1992 in favor of the Democrats, when a viable 3rd party candidate broke the Republican party.

What does all this mean?

  • I’m bothered that foreign interference in a sovereign country’s elections is treated as “business as usual.”
  • I wonder if the interference caused enough Americans to reject both parties, and it was a tossup whether it would favor the Democrats or the Republicans. In any case, the voting statistics show a divided nation with more people considering 3rd party candidates.
  • Maybe the strategy to determine how to tip the Electoral College was suggested by an entity that had a preferred outcome.
  • Did the United States get a taste of its own medicine in 2016? Is this a harbinger of a new world order?
  • We may never know everyone who colluded with Russia in the 2016 election, or at least we may not have enough solid evidence, but we do know Russia interfered and Putin got the result he wanted.
  • Israel’s election is coming up on April 9 and I’m feeling more cynical than ever.

Civic duty

This past week Israel held municipal elections around the country. We had a government-endorsed vacation day to encourage voting. Businesses that stayed open were required to pay employees 200% (as if they worked on a holiday).

I went to my neighborhood polling station and found about 10 people outside promoting their candidates. They completely ignored me as I walked by. Did I project an aura of “I’ve already made up my mind, so don’t even”?

I expected to have to wait to vote. But there was not another voter in the whole building. It was just me at 1 o’clock in the afternoon doing my civic duty.

People often take pictures of themselves voting and post them on Facebook. Taking pictures of the voting process is perfectly fine. But I didn’t do it because the voting system is frankly a bit ridiculous.

In Jerusalem, you vote for a party list and you have a separate vote for the mayor. You don’t mark a ballot or vote on any particular issues.  Personally, I feel like a kindergartner voting for class president.

When you walk in, you give the registrar your ID card and you receive two envelopes: a yellow one for the mayor, a white one for the party. You walk behind a cardboard partition and you’re faced with a divided tray filled with slips of paper. There are 21 parties each with their own letter (that may or may not obviously relate to the party name) and 5 mayoral candidates. You can also write in candidates.

Votingscreengrab source

One slip of paper in each envelope, seal them, and drop them into the locked cardboard box.

Pick up your ID and go on your merry way having completed your civic duty.

Seriously, Jerusalem? WTF?

The next morning we find that we will have a run-off election because no mayoral candidate passed the 40% majority threshold.

Not among the two left standing is the candidate who was endorsed by the outgoing mayor, the prime minister, the Likud party, and other candidates who stepped out of the running. Well, there was a report that he had loan guarantees provided by quite a few Russian oligarchs.  And there was a weird text message campaign against him. I kept receiving anonymous messages saying that Gargamel doesn’t love the Smurfs and he doesn’t love Jerusalem either.

The young, secular guy who is left in the race was not endorsed by any major players and hasn’t raised as much money – although there is a rumor that he has money coming in that doesn’t have to be reported. On the down side, he has no management experience, he hasn’t worked with the Knesset, and he has a reputation for not getting along with colleagues.

But the worst thing is that even though there was a campaign to increase voter turnout and it was a holiday, Jerusalem’s voter turnout went DOWN from the last election. Last time it was 39% and this time it was 35%.

As I was walking to the voting station, I overheard a conversation:

“Are you going to vote?”

“Nah. I don’t like any of the candidates.”

You might think that Jerusalem was any old village in a far-flung corner of Nowheresville, not the home of 3 monotheistic religions, the crossroads of 3 continents, a flashpoint of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Center of the Universe, and the capital of the State of Israel.

Palestinians in East Jerusalem are encouraged to boycott the elections (as a method of not recognizing Israel), so you can understand why they didn’t vote. But all of the 65% of eligible voters who didn’t vote pretty much thumbed their noses at the future of this city with a hearty “Whatever, losers!” and went to the beach.

The run-off is on November 13 and it’s not a holiday. I have a sinking feeling that Apathy will be the winner on that day too.