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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.