Friday, 31 October 2014


The Inter American Press Association (IAPA) has just finished it’s 70th General Assembly, which was held in Santiago, in Chile, it’s conclusions don’t make for good reading. The IAPA noted that freedoms of the press and of freedom of expression in the Americas have seen a "marked deterioration" in the past six months.
It was noted that there had been a "significant increase in direct and indirect censorship and physical attacks on journalists". Violence directed against journalists is being carried out by organized crime, drug traffic hit men and police-style groups on the orders of several governments of the region which resulted in the murder of 11 journalists – three in Honduras, three in Paraguay, two in Mexico, one in El Salvador, one in Colombia and one in Peru.

The Miami-based group stated that media workers in almost all the countries of the region had been affected, but Venezuela was particularly singled out for criticism. The IAPA said Venezuelan police forces and police-style groups on the orders of the government had been left several journalists injured. Physical attacks on journalists were also recorded during coverage of various election processes in Bolivia, Brazil and Peru, and street protests in the American city of Ferguson and in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The IAPA also reported that over the past six months:
In Cuba, the "massive detention of dissidents for the simple act of expressing their political opinions" continued; In Cuba four journalists remain behind bars with sentences of up to seven and 14 years imprisonment, while there continues the massive detention of dissidents for the simple act of expressing their political opinions.

Also in Cuba there has to be mentioned that the online newspaper “14yMedio”, launched in May by journalist Yoani Sánchez, is intermittently being blocked on its Web site. In Venezuela official sectors and criminal gangs used Facebook and Twitter to attack media and journalists. In Argentina, social networks and government-owned media were also used with these purposes.

Censorship of the media during electoral processes was evident in Brazil, where the judicial branch of government accepted 138 requests that media withdraw content, and in Bolivia where the opposition saw political propaganda limited to 30 days before the elections, while President Evo Morales suffer few if any limitations. In Venezuela the government of President Nicolás Maduro continues to deny foreign exchange for the purchase of supplies for print media. More than 30 newspapers are hit by the lack of newsprint and another 12 have already ceased publishing.

In the US, the government was "continuing to prohibit officials from talking to the press". In the USA and Canada legislative reforms aimed at limiting exceptions on the part of these governments to continue restricting public information for reasons always attributed to national security were defeated.

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales "did not suffer any limitations" to political propaganda before this month's elections, unlike the opposition; In Haiti, Chile and Colombia several laws have regulations by which the government and agencies of control can meddle in editorial content and criteria. The same is happening in Argentina with the discriminatory application of the Audiovisual Services Law against the Clarín group, and in Bolivia where the government is threatening enactment of a communication law. In Costa Rica under consideration is a bill to create serious restrictions on media content and editorial criteria.

In Argentina, Nicaragua and Venezuela official corruption has been reflected in the abuse of government propaganda and in the discriminatory distribution of official advertising. The lack of transparency and access to public information continues to be an obstacle to the free practice of journalism in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru and Dominican Republic. 

The ISPA has warned that in Argentina, Haiti, Chile and Colombia the government could use existing laws to "meddle in editorial content and criteria". It also stated that the lack of transparency and access to public information continued to be an obstacle to the free practice of journalism in several countries, including Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina and Peru.

Wednesday, 29 October 2014


Yesterday the National Grid warned that its capacity to supply electricity this winter would be at a seven-year low due to generator closures and breakdowns. The National Grid revealed that spare electricity capacity, which ran at about 5% over the winter months last year, would be nearer 4% this year, three years ago the margin was 17%. The loss of generating capacity is a symptom of a bigger systematic sector wide problem as a result of the model for energy production, distribution and ownership being fundamentally flawed.

Our energy production and distribution model has been restructured to primarily benefit the big 6 energy cartel members, their interests and their (City) profits. From the perspective of energy consumers and smaller scale energy producers, or anyone who wants things to change the problem is that all the Westminster based political parties have quietly bought into this cartel dominated model of energy production and ownership (or perhaps were quietly bought).

The reality is that the UK’s cartel dominated model for energy production and distribution is not necessarily the norm everywhere in Europe or around the world. Alternatives exist and prosper, a particularly good example of a balanced and healthy energy mix can be found in Germany. Here small may very well be beautiful, even within a geographically sizeable state, particularly in relation to energy, back in 2012 some 22% of the countries energy came from small scale green entrepreneurs. 

In Germany community based co-operatives (both urban and rural), farmers and homeowners are part of the 1.3 million renewable energy producers and part of the energy mix. Incidentally in Germany, citizens’, cooperatives, and communities own more than half of German renewable capacity. Small-scale electricity generation is having a knock on effect encouraging change throughout the energy system.

In Berlin, a cooperative (Burger Energie Berlin – literally Berlin Citizens Energy) is campaigning to take control of the capital's electricity grid with some 35,000km of underground cables. The cooperative is a free, cross-party coalition of citizens who are committed to a sustainable, sustainable and democratic energy policy in Berlin. Members have one vote regardless of the amount their deposit and anyone who wants the power network to be in civil hand, is welcome.

Ordinary Berliners have invested their cash in the venture with the intention of producing a reliable 100 percent renewable energy supply. The aim is to promote the integration of renewable energy into the grid and to invest a portion of the profits from this directly into the transition to renewable energy. At present the Berlin electricity grid is run by Vattenfall (whose concession runs out this year) regularly generates millions in profits, members of the co-operative believe that the profits from the grid operation should flow to Berlin’s citizens.  

This is grass roots energy generation that has potentially the power to change the nature of the energy supply system (in Germany and elsewhere). They aim to build an energy grid that is better handle the rise of green power and allows local use of locally produced energy. This may well be a case of small being both beautiful and perhaps more disturbing from the perspective of Westminster being that it is both community beneficial and community owned.

In Germany, there is a deliberate promoted policy of energy transition (or ‘Energiewende’) – this is a very different approach to what is practised in these islands (at least south of the Scottish border). For a start the ‘Energiewende’ is driven by a desire to reduce and eliminate any dependency on nuclear energy. 

The introduction of the Feed-in-tariff (EEG) in 2008 was an important part of this process, along with (post Fukushima) the almost unanimous across the board political commitment to a wide range of targets (in 2011) which included a commitment to reduce energy demand (with a 50% reduction in primary energy use by 2050) and the achievement of an 80% renewable electricity share of total consumption (by 2050). This has resulted in a significant uptake of renewables in Germany.

It is worth noting that:
  • In early 2012, around 25% of Germany’s power was generated from renewable sources;
  • Costs for wind generated power have fallen by around 50% since 1990;
  • Costs for solar systems has fallen by around 80-90% since 1990;
  • In 2011, over 380,000 people were employed in the renewable energy sources industry
  • Only 13% of Germany’s 60 GW of renewable energy is owned by utilities, with the rest being owned by households, communities, and farmers among others;
  • In less than 7 years, an energy market with 4 main suppliers has turned into one with more than a million suppliers;
  • Solar supply has already met peak lunchtime demand on several occasions.
Another of the benefits of the Energiewende is more local ownership of the means of energy production, more jobs, more security of supply and real meaningful action to tackle climate-changing emissions from energy.

The real striking difference is that the operation of the grid in Germany means that generated renewable electricity is used first and that distribution network operators (DNOs) are also seeking to reduce demand. This is so radically different from the way the energy is generated, distributed and used here in Wales.

Another significant difference, aside from the scale and pattern of investment (in Germany), is that small businesses, co-operatives, individual households and local authorities benefit from investment distributed by a network of local banks (something we pretty much entirely lack in Wales). The whole thing is supported by the KfW (state investment bank) to the tune of 23.3 billion euro in the area of environment and climate protection (2012 figures).

These developments are a million miles away from the so-called ‘Free market’ for energy that exists in the UK, which is pretty dominated by the ‘Big 6’ energy cartel members. The fact that some former politicians have found rewarding post political career employment within the energy sector may be co-incidental but suggests that there is little desire for improvement within Westminster.

The way the current set up works, it is difficult to imagine ‘Government’ at most levels (at least south of the Scottish border) in the UK grasping the concept, the practicalities and real possibilities of genuine community owned beneficial energy generation projects.

Monday, 27 October 2014


For too long our natural resources have been run for the benefit of others with few real or lasting benefits trickling down to the people of Wales. The final say on how our natural resources are exploited and developed should be the responsibility of the Welsh people (and the Welsh Government) and any profits or dividends should directly benefit the people who live here. Our water resources including the responsibility for sewerage for the whole territory of Wales should be the responsibility of the Welsh Government. The Crown Estate remains unaccountable to the people of Wales and all profits from its holdings (which includes on and off shore wind farms) are passed to the UK Westminster Government. Profits from these holdings are likely to grow significantly mostly due to the growing demand for renewable energy. Ownership and control over the Crown Estates in Wales should be transferred to the Welsh Government.

Thursday, 23 October 2014


With another round of eagerly anticipated autumn rugby internationals set to run through November (aside from a collective fingers crossed) across much of the former county Gwent (and no doubt elsewhere) rugby fans and rail users will be preparing themselves for the ordeal of trying to get into Cardiff on overcrowded (or full) trains). I have no doubt that the franchise holder will run short trains, which by the time they reach the stations (e.g. Abergavenny, Pontypool, Cwmbran, Chepstow, Caldicot, Severn Tunnel Junction and Newport) in the green and pleasant old county of Gwent, will be so full of people that passengers cannot board. Every year in recent years it has been the same with the same old lame excuses being rolled out by the franchise holders to why there was no space, why the trains were short, etc. The real reason for the shoddy service is about profits, extra trains and extra carriages have to be rented and this hits profits and dividends.  The day that the rail franchise (in Wales and the marches) is run as a not for dividend profit franchise cannot come soon enough. 

Tuesday, 21 October 2014


Leyla Yunus has been in pretrial detention for nearly three months.
She says she has been beaten and denied medical care for diabetes and other ailments.
By Shahnaz Huseynova and Daisy Sindelar October 20, 2014
On October 21, the European Parliament will announce the 17th annual Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, a distinction that comes with a 50,000 euro award ($64,000) and entry to a select club of some of the world's most respected human rights defenders.
In the case of Leyla Yunus, one of this year's finalists, the prize holds another potential benefit: pressure on the Azerbaijani court system, which is set this week to determine if the 58-year old activist will remain behind bars to face trial on charges -- dismissed by supporters as bogus -- of treason and espionage.
Yunus, the head of the Baku-based Institute for Peace and Democracy and an outspoken government critic, has already spent nearly three months in pretrial detention, where she complained of being physically beaten and denied medical care for diabetes and other ailments. 
On October 20, authorities appeared to ratchet up the pressure by abruptly transferring Yunus to a detention facility run by the Ministry of National Security, which is notorious for use of torture and other coercive tactics. Yunus's 59-year-old husband, Arif -- a well-known historian and activist in his own right -- is being held in the same facility on charges similar to hers. 
The unexpected transfer is seen as an attempt to further isolate Yunus, and comes just days before a court hearing on whether to extend her pretrial detention. The remand hearing is scheduled to be held this week, although an exact date has not been set. 
By law, Security Ministry officials are required to explain the need for a transfer before any move is made. But lawyer Alayif Hasanov told RFE/RL that he received no prior notification about the relocation. 
"The officials are meant to provide both us and the person being transferred with an explanation for the transfer and whether it's a matter of urgency," Hasanov said. "Based on that explanation, we can determine how reasonable or urgent the transfer was. But there's been no explanation."
Yunus's legal team expressed concern that the ministry's tighter restrictions on food and medicine deliveries may further compromise Yunus's health. Lawyer Khalid Bagirov expressed cautious hope that a positive announcement from the European Parliament could bring pressure to bear on authorities in Baku. 
"The Sakharov Prize is one of the most serious prizes in Europe, but I can't say how seriously the Azerbaijani government views it," he said. "I want to hope that if she's awarded the Sakharov Prize, Leyla Yunus will be set free." 
'Track Two' Diplomacy
Yunus, who has taken on corruption, domestic violence, and unlawful evictions over the course of her career, has run afoul of the Azerbaijani government more than once. But her current charges -- linked to her work promoting so-called "track two" diplomacy, or person-to-person contact, between Azerbaijan and archenemy Armenia -- are especially grave, and could carry a sentence of 15 years to life if Yunus is convicted. 
The Yunuses' arrests come amid a sweeping crackdown in Azerbaijan against journalists, lawyers, and other government critics. In recent months, the oil-rich regime of President Ilham Aliyev has arrested at least 11 activists on political charges despite assuming the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe, the European region's foremost human rights body, in May. 
Advocacy groups have slammed the government case against the Yunuses. In an October 18 press release, Human Rights Watch called on authorities to immediately release the couple and drop the charges against them, denouncing the case as "a travesty and a clear attempt by the Azerbaijan government to silence them with bogus charges." 
Yunus, who has published several open letters to her husband since their detention, has written passionately about the government's campaign, and has expressed mounting fear that she and her husband, who suffers from heart disease, may not live to see their release. 
In her latest letter, published the same day as her transfer, she wrote, "I clearly understand their goal is not just destruction, but brutal torture, insults, and physical torment, when death becomes the desired escape from the terrible suffering. This is our reality, and I clearly realize it. In other words, our work received the highest mark on the highest scale." 
The international community has traditionally offered only mild criticism of Baku's rights record, prompting allegations that Azerbaijan is using its energy riches to peddle influence abroad. 
Notable exceptions include the European Court of Human Rights, which on October 11 granted priority status to the Yunuses' case against their arrest, and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which on October 15 ordered Azerbaijan to undergo a review of its civil society standards by the start of 2015. 
The couple's daughter, Dinara, who has lived in Amsterdam since receiving political asylum in the Netherlands, says the Sakharov Prize could help provide additional leverage against the Aliyev regime. 
"It might have an influence on her case, and it would also show the world what's really going on in Azerbaijan and how many political prisoners there are," she says. "I'm afraid that if she doesn't win, she won't have that protection from the Europarliament. The Sakharov Prize would give her protection in front of the Azeri government."
Yunus, who was nominated for the Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament's Green Party faction, is considered a dark horse in the race, where Ukraine's Euromaidan protest movement and Denis Mukwege, a doctor crusading against rape in the Congo, have been backed by larger factions. 
The fates of past Sakharov laureates, however, indicate that the prize is not always accompanied by better conditions at home. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader, received the Sakharov Prize in 1990 but was only able to collect the award after her release from house arrest 20 years later. 
Other Sakharov prize-winners continue to face oppression, including the Belarusian Association of Journalists, Iranian lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, and the Russian rights group Memorial -- founded and led by Sakharov himself -- which is facing current efforts by the Justice Ministry to liquidate its operations.