Obama and Hillary both urge UK to stay in EU

obama uk hillary euPresident Obama and, possibly next US president, Hillary Clinton want the UK to remain in the EU.

No sooner had pro-Brexit campaigners labelled US President Barack Obama’s warning against the UK leaving Europe as the views of a ‘lame duck’ president than Democratic front-runner, and possibly next president, Hillary Clinton added her opinion. And she made it clear that if she enters the White House she will want the UK to be fully engaged, and leading the debate, within the EU.

Obama had warned that it could take up to 10 years for the UK to negotiate trade deals with the US if it leaves the EU. In a BBC interview, the US president said: “It could be five years from now, 10 years from now before we were able to actually get something done.”

Asked to explain, Obama said: “The UK would not be able to negotiate something with the United States faster than the EU. We wouldn’t abandon our efforts to negotiate a trade deal with our largest trading partner, the European market.”

Britain would also have less influence globally if it left, he added.

This brought about an angry response from the Leave campaign.

“This is really about a lame duck US president about to move off the stage doing an old British friend a favour,” said Justice Minister Dominic Raab.

And while it may be fairly safe to discount the views of any president in his last nine months in office, it may be unwise to ignore those of someone leading the chase to succeed him – former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In a statement to the Observer, her senior policy adviser, Jake Sullivan, said: “Hillary Clinton believes that transatlantic cooperation is essential, and that cooperation is strongest when Europe is united. She has always valued a strong United Kingdom in a strong EU. And she values a strong British voice in the EU.”

It has also been reported, apparently according to ‘sources close to the former secretary of state’s campaign’, that she stands fully behind Obama’s opposition to Brexit, which the president said on Friday would not only undermine the international institutions, including the EU, that had bound nations closer together since 1945, but would also mean the UK being at ‘the back of the queue’ when negotiating new trade deals.

Everyone’s vote should matter – but does it?

ballot box

Uncertainty is hanging over the heads of people in so many different countries this year as questions relating to their futures are being decided at the ballot box. Well, they should be.

In the USA, the various Democratic and Republican candidates are fighting through the primary and caucus system to win enough support to win their party’s nomination as candidate in the presidential election in November.

In Europe, there are three important decisions being made: the Irish general election; the UK referendum on whether to remain in or to leave the European Union; and the efforts In Spain to form a government following the December general election that left no party with enough seats to govern alone.

flag USA

Back in the States, there are really only two contenders for the Democrats: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Hillary is by far the favourite although her early victories have been close – some decided by the toss of a coin and others through the help of unregistered voters. It seems that not all is as it should be in the States. My wife, Lisa, is American and she is not surprised by the shenanigans. “Votes don’t matter in America. People don’t really choose candidates or the President. Look at the New Hampshire primary; Sanders won 60% of the popular vote but, because of party rules, Clinton won the most delegates; tell me how that is fair or democratic,” she says.

On the other side of the political debate, the Republican fight seems to be only of concern now to three would-be presidents: front runner Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Others still in the race seem to be out of contention. As the campaign heads towards ‘Super Tuesday’, it looks as though Trump may soon be in an unbeatable position to be named as the party candidate.

flag Ireland

Ireland goes to the polls tomorrow, February 26, to elect its new government. Opinion polls point to Fianna Fail replacing Labour as the second largest party. Fine Gael looks set to remain the largest party, just, but with fewer seats No-one is predicted to achieve an overall majority.

flag Spain

Spain’s parliament meets on March 2 in an attempt to install PSOE (socialist) leader Pedro Sanchez as prime minister. To do so, he will need to win the support of the majority of deputies choosing to vote. Some may abstain. If the PSOE leader cannot receive the necessary backing the PP (conservatives) may be asked once more to form a government but  they have already declined once. Should all attempts fail, Spain will go to the polls once more in June.

flag UK flag Europe

The UK faces a vote in the form of a referendum to either remain in the European Union or to leave it, the so-called Brexit. The vote takes place on June 23 and the ‘Remain’ and ‘Leave’ campaigns both have support from politicians in all the main UK-wide parties. This referendum is too distant and the campaign too long to hazard a prediction yet.

 

HSCT, sunshine, MS and other musings

gwen higgsbernie sandersHCdavid cameron_edited Gwen Higgs, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and David Cameron

Gwen’s story, warts and all

HSCT, stem cell therapy, and its use to treat multiple sclerosis patients has been on television, in publications and even this blog during the second half of January. In just a couple of days, or so, I shall be bringing you the story of Gwen Higgs from diagnoses, through her battle against both MS and her neurologist, her treatment in Russia, and how she is today.

It is an honest story that does not gloss over her struggles or her embarrassment. Be sure not to miss out.

So this is winter?

Weather here in the south of Spain continues to be most pleasant. In the last two days, Lisa and I have enjoyed lunch outdoors on the terrace while we soaked up the sun;  so good for my Vitamin D.

Forecasts for Thursday and Friday don’t look as good with highs of only 12° and 14°C/ 54° and 57°F respectively – but warmer weather should return on Saturday.

I am still not really acclimatised yet but certainly enjoying the sunshine in which it is hot enough to sunbathe. It just seems ridiculous to be able to do that in the so-called winter months of January and February.

Back to Malaga

Our car was collected today and taken back to the automatic gearbox specialist in Malaga but, this time, they brought us a courtesy car. So there is no need now to rely on neighbours’ goodwill to take us shopping and what not.

Six coin tosses decide Iowa Democratic winner

So six of the Iowa State Democratic party delegates as elected by the caucus were decided by coin tosses as both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders achieved equal votes in six of the areas being counted.

Now if six dead heats aren’t coincidental enough, the fact that Hillary won all six coin tosses is just too much for me. Don’t worry, I am sure conspiracy theories will soon arise.

In Iowa, Sanders won 21 of the delegates without a coin toss; Hillary gained 22 INCLUDING all six dead heats decided by the flip of a coin. Now tell me that Hillary won in Iowa. If just one toss had gone to Sanders, then he would have won 22-21. Enough said.

UK Euro battle lines were drawn early

On the eastern side of the Atlantic, UK Prime Minister David Cameron is hailing the outcome of his negotiations with Europe as successful. Whether they are, or aren’t, is another matter.

What everybody needs to realise, however, is that the ‘stay’ and ‘leave’ campaigns for the UK’s promised referendum on membership of the European Union were already decided before the results of the renegotiation were known.

Those determined to stay, and those determined to leave, had declared their positions and would be campaigning for victory in the referendum. In reality, the renegotiations did not matter at all.

 

Act now to save Orcas from extinction by chemicals

orca

Mammoth black-and-white Killer Whales, the mammals made popular by films such as Free Willy, face the terrible danger of extinction in the seas around Europe.

The cause of the problem is of human origin – poisonous chemicals.

Like other animals at the top of the food chain, the Killer Whale is particularly at risk of poisoning from accumulation of toxins, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and a new study is reporting that high levels of PCBs are still being pumped into the world’s oceans.

And that despite it being banned many years ago.

The report of the study, of 1,000 Killer Whale, Dolphin and Porpoise samples taken off the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain’s Canary Islands, Britain and Ireland, describes the Strait of Gibraltar, their only passage between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, as being ‘especially bad’.

The findings of the study, published in Nature magazine, have prompted zoologists to now call for tougher regulations including more stringent penalties for those caught disposing of man-made PCBs into the seas.

Paul Jepson, speaking on behalf of the London-based Zoological Society, said: “It’s really looking bleak. We think there is a very high extinction risk for Killer Whales as a species in industrialised regions of Europe.”

An earlier survey, off Washington state’s Pacific coast, found PCB levels in Killer Whales were higher than levels that had caused health problems in harbour seals. Meanwhile whale blubber samples in the Norwegian Arctic have been found to show higher levels of PCBs, pesticides and brominated flame-retardants than in polar bears.

More properly known by its latin name Orcinus orca, the Killer Whale is also referred to as the Orca. It is a toothed whale belonging to the oceanic dolphin family, of which it is the largest member. There are four types of Killer Whales that, between them, are found in all oceans.

They have a varied diet, although individual populations often specialize in particular types of prey. Some feed exclusively on fish, while others hunt marine mammals like seals, and even large whales. They have been known to attack baleen whale calves. Killer Whales are regarded as apex predators residing at the top of a food chain – upon which no other creatures prey or one lacking natural predators.

Killer whales are highly social; some populations are composed of matrilineal, or female line, family groups which are the most stable of any animal species. Their sophisticated hunting techniques and vocal behaviour, or ‘whale song’, are often specific to a particular group and passed across generations and have been described as manifestations of culture.

Looking at the 12 months ahead of us

genelect queen reign HCFrom left: Spanish party leaders seek coalitions, UK’s Queen Elizabeth II will be 90 in April, Hillary Clinton set to win Democratic nomination but President?

January – now. Spain’s national politicians are trying to put together a coalition to form a government after last month’s general election created a hung parliament for the first time since democracy was restored. They have until January 13 to succeed or a new election will be called. (50shades: It seems no-one wants a second election but to avoid that some tough compromises will need to be made).

March 14 – European Space Agency and Roscosmos plan to launch the joint ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter on a mission to Mars following postponement of original planned launch on January 7. (50shades: Good to see some international cooperation, if it goes ahead this time).

April 21- Queen Elizabeth II of the UK will mark her 90th birthday. (50shades: So many years of service to her country).

May 5 – National Assembly for Wales election (where we lived before moving to Spain). (50shades: There is likely to be a new party in the Assembly after the election with UKIP possibly gaining as many as 10 seats. This could herald the end to Labour’s monopoly on power and mean a return to coalition rule. The only question being: Which parties would be in such a coalition? Most likely Labour/Plaid Cymru/Liberal Democrats).

May 9 – A transit of Mercury will occur when the planet comes between the Sun and the Earth, and Mercury is seen as a small black dot moving across the face of the Sun. Full transit will be visible in South America, Eastern North America, Western Europe, and a partial transit everywhere else except Australia and far eastern Asia. (50shades comment: Nothing to get excited about, fairly frequent most recent one was in 2006).

May 12-15 A special celebration will take place in the grounds of Windsor Castle, UK, in celebration of the Queen’s 90th birthday.

June 1 – Gotthard Base Tunnel, the world’s longest (35.4 miles) and deepest rail tunnel, is scheduled to be opened in Switzerland. (50shades: The Swiss are good at creating tunnels. This will help trade).

June 10-12 – UK national commemorations to mark the Queen’s 90th birthday.

July 4 – America’s NASA Juno spacecraft is expected to arrive at Jupiter. (50shades: Wait for pictures of Jupiter to fill TV screens and newspapers).

July 18-21 – Republican Party National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. (50shades: Maybe too close to call but, sticking out neck, it will be Ted Cruz as nominated candidate).

July 25-28 – Democratic Party National Convention at Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia. (50shades: Hillary Clinton will win the presidential nomination).

August 5-21 – 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (50shades: Expect thrills and spills aplenty plus a scandal or two. Wow, is it really four years since London Olympics?).

September 3 – NASA plans to launch the OSIRIS-REx mission to retrieve a sample from the asteroid Bennu. (50shades: Doubtless it will be a success but what’s the point?)

Sometime in September – China plans to complete the Five hundred metre Aperture Spherical Telescope. (50shades: So China wants its own telescope but will it be any better than what we have now?).

November 1 – Sierra Nevada Corporation plans to launch Dream Chaser, a privately built spaceplane on an unmanned debut mission. (50shades: Sounds interesting).

November 8 – USA presidential election (50shades: Republican candidate, whoever he is, will win).

December 31 – The last remaining American, British and Australian troops ‘will’ withdraw from Afghanistan. (50shades: It won’t happen, there will be a reason why they need to remain).

 

 

Stopping abuse of parking bays for disabled people

Not all physical disabilities, let alone the mental ones, are necessarily apparent to other people – and by ‘other people’ I include those of us who live with more obvious physical disabilities.

As just one example, let’s look at car parking bays denoted by the well known wheelchair symbol that are reserved for people with disabilities – and by that I mean people possessing the relevant document to allow them to use one of those bays. In the UK these are ‘parking cards’ but are popularly referred to as ‘blue badges’, in the USA they are generally known as ‘parking placards’ while in Canada they are called ‘parking permits’.

Different rules exist for each country, so users have to know where they may and may not park, but I am sure similar issues exist all over the world.

So, let’s look at the country I know best – the UK – and the use of parking bays for disabled people. These are reserved for blue badge holders who only obtain those by receiving one of a certain range of disability benefits or have gone through a pretty rigorous application process for the badge itself.

Now imagine this scene. A car pulls into a parking bay reserved for a person with a disability, the driver puts a blue badge on display and walks away from the vehicle without a walking aid and without any obvious sign of a disability.

Of course it is possible that another member of the family is improperly using the blue badge but is it possible that the correct person, the one with a disability, is whom has just walked away? Well, not all disabilities are obvious, some are known as ‘invisible disabilities’ and a person walking without a mobility aid of some kind might still be in considerable pain.

If someone is not receiving a benefit that automatically entitles him or her to a blue badge, that person has to undergo a walking ability assessment. In general terms, such a person will only be able to get a blue badge if he or she can walk only with great difficulty, at an extremely slow pace or with excessive pain.

Remember, though, anyone who is used to living in pain is usually very good at hiding it.

I have to admit that, in the past, I have on occasion been guilty of making rash judgements relating to someone’s walking ability on leaving a vehicle in a blue badge bay. Fortunately, my misguided comments never got outside my car and were quickly countered by my wife Lisa who, quite rightly, pointed out that all disabilities are not obvious just by looking.

It is more important to trust those who assess people’s abilities before issuing blue badges and to ensure that parking facilities provided for the benefit of drivers or passengers with disabilities are not abused. We need to protect our parking bays from abuse by anyone without a blue badge or by someone misusing a badge issued for a family member who is not in the car at that time.

It is not our, or anyone else’s, place to cast doubt on another’s right to have a blue badge or whatever the parking permit is called in any particular country.