March 13, 2010

Eurovision: Triumphant Underground

March 12, 2010
Triumphant Underground
Comment by Shaun Walker
Special to Russia Profile

The Selection of Nalich to Represent Russia at Eurovision Is a Sign That YouTube Is Becoming a Social Force to Be Reckoned With Peter Nalitch

Russians seem to take the Eurovision Song Contest, scheduled to take place in Oslo in late May of this year, extremely seriously indeed. Eurovision is an annual competition held among active member countries of the European Broadcasting Union, where each member country submits a song to be performed on live television and then casts votes for the other countries' songs. Russians saw Dima Bilan’s 2008 victory in the contest as a triumph of the nation as a whole, but this year it’s not your run-of-the-mill pop star that has been chosen for the job– and it’s all thanks to the Internet.

The snow is melting, the temperature is rising and spring is here. All of which means only one thing – the Eurovision Song Contest will soon be upon us again. Last year, of course, the contest was actually held in Moscow, after mulleted imp Dima Bilan triumphed at the previous year’s contest and won the right for his home country to host the next event. Having sat through the whole horrendous affair at Olimpiysky, I was completely disabused of the notion that Eurovision is enjoyed only by those with an extremely developed sense of irony.

The assembled “journalists” from across Europe who had jetted into Moscow to cover the event took it deathly seriously. Every shiny white suit, pelvic thrust, appalling haircut and kitsch dance move drew disbelieving headshakes and raucous laughter from me and the small group of Moscow correspondents (as opposed to flown-in Eurovision correspondents) that were watching the event at the press center. But we were given dirty looks, shushed, and in some cases even abused by the worshippers of the contest who had come to Moscow for their annual party.

And it’s not just a few weirdos who seem to take this supposedly farcical competition seriously. When Bilan won in 2008, both Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin sped to congratulate him, the latter calling it “one more triumph for all of Russia” (presumably not as impressive as victory in the Great Patriotic War, but close).

So, I approached last week’s Russian qualifying round, to determine who would have the honor of representing Russia in Oslo this year, with extreme seriousness. And I was amazed to see that amid some truly appalling entries, there was Peter Nalich, who had wooed the Russian Internet a couple of years ago with his catchy song “Gitar”. Complete with absurd English lyrics, comedy budget video, and a catchy tune, it was the perfect Internet hit.

The song gained Nalich temporary fame, and there followed a series of concerts at various Moscow nightclubs, though the worry was always that he was a bit of a one-hit wonder. None of the other tunes he came up with seemed as catchy or amusing as “Gitar,” and he gradually began to fade from public consciousness. But he’s now back and has the chance to hit it big time with Eurovision.

What of the song he’s chosen? I have to say, I don’t think it’s anywhere near as good as “Gitar.” The words are perhaps still moderately amusing and ironic, but it’s certainly nowhere near as funny. Nevertheless it makes a pleasant change from the likes of Bilan, and the awful Mamo, sung by Anastasia Prikhodko last year.

Choosing a genuinely talented musician to represent Russia at Eurovision drew sneers from the traditional cheesy pop brigade. Bilan himself, while happy to prance around the stage in a tight-fitting white vest and congratulate Nalich on his victory, had some catty words afterward. “If you remember the qualifying round in 2008, then the competition was better, there were more famous people,” he told the Trud newspaper. “As for Peter Nalich, of course he’s nothing special.”

Bilan’s producer, Yana Rudkovskaya, was even blunter: “It will be difficult for Nalich to make it even into the top ten,” she said. “He says he got famous because of the Internet, but at Eurovision it’s a different audience.”

Well, perhaps, though my personal opinion is that Nalich has more talent in his little finger than Bilan has in his whole body, mullet included. But the one serious point to be taken from all this is the growing strength of the Internet in Russia. “A resource has appeared that gives musicians the possibility to get their music to millions of people without advertising, producers, television or radio,” Nalich told RIA Novosti. “All that matters is whether the musician is good or not, and nothing else.”

Nalich was perhaps Russia’s first YouTube star, followed by Baimurat Allaberiyev, the Tajik migrant worker whose pitch-perfect renditions of Bollywood classics in various grim settings earned him a string of concerts and then a record deal. My personal tip for future YouTube stardom is Lolly Pop, a raucous underage Lolita punk group from Tyumen, that has posted a string of foul-mouthed but surprisingly catchy numbers online in recent months, mostly with videos shot on a webcam.

But even more interesting, if anything can be more interesting than Lolita punk from the Urals, is the fact that in recent months, the Russian Internet has thrown up a whole new bunch of heroes, this time political ones. YouTube is now the favoured method of solving outrageous road crimes, with the Anatoly Barkov crash, the MKAD “human shield,” and many others all being exposed on the Internet in videos that have drawn hundreds of thousands of views and forced the authorities to act.

So in a country where the Anatoly Barkovs rule the road and the Dima Bilans rule the airwaves, YouTube continues to give Russians a ray of hope for something better.

Shaun Walker is the Moscow correspondent for The Independent newspaper.

Permanent Aggression, War on the horizon in Latin America

March 12th 2010, by Eva Golinger - Correo del Orinoco International

Latin America has suffered constant aggressions executed by Washington during the past two hundred years. Strategies and tactics of covert and overt warfare have been applied against different nations in the region, ranging from coup d’etats, assassinations, disappearances, torture, brutal dictatorships, atrocities, political persecution, economic sabotage, psychological operations, media warfare, biological warfare, subversion, counterinsurgency, paramiliary infiltration, diplomatic terrorism, blockades, electoral intervention to military invasions. Regardless of who’s in the White House – democrat or republican – when it comes to Latin America, the Empire’s policies remain the same.

In the twenty-first century, Venezuela has been one of the principle targets of these constant aggressions. Since the April 2002 coup, there has been a dangerous escalation in attacks and destabilization attempts against the Bolivarian Revolution. Although many fell beneath the seductive smile and poetic words of Barack Obama, it’s not necessary to look beyond the past year to see the intensification of Washington’s aggressions against Venezuela. The largest military expansion in history in the region – through the US occupation of Colombia – the reactivation of the Fourth Fleet of the US Navy, as well as an increased US military presence in the Caribbean, Panama and Central America throughout the past year, can be interpreted as preparation for a conflict scenario in the region.

Escalation in Agressions

The hostile declarations from various Washington representatives during the past few weeks, accusing Venezuela of failure to combat narcotics operations, violating human rights, “not contributing to democracy and regional stability”, and of being the “regional anti-US leader”, form part of a coordinated campaign that seeks to justify a direct aggression against Venezuela. Soon, Washington will publish its annual list of “state sponsors of terrorism”, and if Venezuela is placed on the list this year, the region could be on the brink of an unprecedented military conflict.

Evidence seems to indicate a move in that direction. A US Air Force document justifying the need to increase military presence in Colombia affirmed that Washington is preparing for “expeditionary warfare” in South America.

The 2009 Air Force document, sent to Congress last May (but later modified in November after it was used to demonstrate the true intentions behind the military agreement between the US and Colombia), explained, ““Development of this CSL (Cooperative Security Location) will further the strategic partnership forged between the US and Colombia and is in the interest of both nations…A presence will also increase our capability to conduct Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), improve global reach, support logistics requirements, improve partnerships, improve theater security cooperation and expand expeditionary warfare capability”.

On the verge of regional war

The first official report outlining the defense and intelligence priorities of the Obama administration dedicated substantial attention to Venezuela. The Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community – which has mentioned Venezuela in years past, but not nearly with the same emphasis and extension – particularly signaled out President Chavez as a major “threat” to US interests. “Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has established himself as one of the US’s foremost international detractors, denouncing liberal democracy and market capitalism and opposing US policies and interests in the region”, said the intelligence document, placing Venezuela in the same category as Iran, North Korea and Al Qa’ida.

Days after the report was published, the State Department presented its 2011 budget to Congress. In addition to an increase in financing through USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) to fund opposition groups in Venezuela – more than $15 million USD – there was also a $48 million USD request for the Organization of American States (OAS) to “deploy special ‘democracy promoter’ teams to countries where democracy is under threat from the growing presence of alternative concepts such as the ‘participatory democracy’ promoted by Venezuela and Bolivia”.

One week later, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission of the OAS – funded by Washington – emitted a whopping 322-page report slamming Venezuela for human rights violations, repression of the press and undermining democracy. Despite the fact that it was a report – and a Commission – dedicated to the topic of human rights, the detailed study barely mentioned the immense achievements of the Chavez government in advancing human rights; advances which have been recognized and applauded over the past five years by the Unted Nations. The evidence used by the OAS to elaborate the report came from opposition testimonies and biased media outlets, a clear demonstration of dangerous subjectivity.

Simultaneous to these accusations, a Spanish court accused the Venezuelan government last week of supporting and collaborating with the FARC and ETA – organizations considered terrorist by both the US and Spain – provoking an international scandal. President Chavez reiterated that his government has absolutely no ties with any terrorist group in the world. “This is a government of peace”, declared Chavez, after explaining that the presence of ETA members in Venezuela is due to an agreement made over 20 years ago by the government of Carlos Andres Perez in order to aid Spain in a peace treaty with the Basque separatist group.

The Empire has no color

Last week, on tour in Latin America, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton couldn’t stop attacking Venezuela during her different declarations made before international media. She expressed her “great concern” for democracy and human rights in Venezuela, accusing President Chavez of not “contributing in a constructive manner” to regional progress. In a cynical tone, Clinton advised President Chavez to “look further south” for inspiration, instead of towards Cuba.

Clinton’s regional trip was part of a strategy announced by the Obama administration last year, to create a divide between the so-called “progressive left” and the “radical left” in Latin America. It’s no coincidence that her first tour of the region coincided with the announcement of a new Latin American and Caribbean Community of States, which excludes the presence of the US and Canada.

The coming conflict

A military conflict is not initiated from one day to the next. It’s a process that involves first influencing public perception and opinion – demonizing the target leader or government in order to justify aggression. Subsequently, armed forces are strategically deployed in the region in order to guarantee an effective military action. Tactics, such as subversion and counterinsurgency, are utilized in order to debilitate and destabilize the target nation from within, increasing its vulnerability and weakening its defenses.

This plan has been active against Venezuela for several years. The consolidation of regional unity and Latin American integration threatens US possibilities of regaining domination and control in the hemisphere. And the advances of the Bolivarian Revolution have impeded its “self-destruction”, provoked by internal subversion funded and directed by US agencies. However, the Empire will not cease its attempts to achieve its final objective, and a potential military conflict in the region remains on the horizon.

Global financial services and regulation: friends or foes?

Global Financial Services

The impact of regulation on competitiveness

18 March 2010 | Bloomberg LP, London

Global financial services and regulation: friends or foes?

As the global financial crisis shows early signs of receding, this is a key moment to ask what will be the likely future shape and structure of financial services firms. If moves to regulate the industry more tightly are successful, what impact will this have on financial firms' ability to do business?

Policymakers and financial services industry leaders from the major economies will discuss the role, structure and regulation of the financial services industry, and which forums, mechanisms and institutions will be effective in restoring confidence in its activities.


Register Now

IRAN: Not their parents’ revolution

by Shervin Ahmadi

Some recent images of popular protest in Iran look like the 1979 revolution. But appearances can be deceptive: modern Iran is profoundly different from 1979. Urbanisation has increased and 70% of Iranians now live in towns; fewer than 50% were urban in 1979 (1).

This major shift is not just due to the exodus from the countryside; it was helped by the development of a road network which, with the arrival of electricity and water in rural areas after the revolution, reduced the distance between town and country, narrowing the gap between different ways of life. Things previously inaccessible to Iranians in the countryside, such as healthcare and education, including higher education, were now within reach. The cultural barriers came down.

This process has contributed to an overall rise in health standards, a reduction in illiteracy and an increase in the number of graduates. In 1979, more than half of Iranians were illiterate; now the rate is under 15%. Literacy rates among women have risen from 36% to more than 74%, and in the towns, 82%. The number of students in higher education has gone up more than sevenfold, from 160,000 to 1.2 million, with female attendance up from 38% to 65% (2).

There has also been a demographic revolution. In 1979 the population was 30 million: today it is 70 million, more than half under 25; the majority of Iranians were born after the revolution. Women had on average six children in 1979, today they have only two, so the numbers may fall in future.

Under Islamic rule obstacles to girls’ education were lifted. Though boycotted by traditionalists, television and cinema also became a normal part of family life. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of women in print increased by 13 times, and there are now 370 well-known female novelists.

But urban life has created demands the government hasn’t been able to satisfy. Unemployment of under-25s rose to 29% in 2005 – and to 39% for women. Add that to the restrictions on individual and political freedom and the lack of prospects for graduates, and there is the explanation for the brain drain. According to IMF figures, 250,000 Iranian engineers and doctors, with 70,000 other graduates, have made their home in the US.

The neoliberal reforms of Rafsanjani’s second term of office set aside the slogans of the revolution in favour of social justice; mercenary values prevailed. This increased the size of the commercial and trading sectors, and developed the market for imported goods and consumerist desires, especially those of young middle-class Iranians. Local industry, the victim of irrational policies, has been unable to compete with goods imported by speculators, who often get special protection.

The life that the authorities allow Iranians has become too restrictive. It’s at odds with the initial impulse of the revolution, with Iranians’ socio-cultural standing and the aspirations of the young. The present revolt expresses the desire to push against those restrictions.

1) N Pour Afkari and S Kalantari, professors of social science at the University of Isfahan, “Progression de l’urbanisation en Iran”, official site of the Iranian census organisation.

(2) Website of the Institute for Research and Planning in Higher Education.

World Oil Trade: New Oil Axis

Chatham House

John Mitchell, March 2010

The World Today, Volume 66, Number 3

We have got used to worrying about which volatile region our energy supplies come from. Now change is afoot, new worries for different people. The world oil trade is moving from west to east, with demand growing in a region with few supplies. New balances are developing which will shape the oil market and change its geopolitics. Asia's oil will largely come from the Middle East, an area on which it has little expertise. Atlantic countries need to look to Russia and Central Asia.

The rise of Asia in the world economy is not a new phenomenon. This growth has been reflected in energy and oil demand, while oil production in the region has grown more slowly, supplying less than a third of consumption by 2008. Since 1995 the Asia-Pacific oil deficit - the shortfall of production over consumption - has exceeded that of the rest of the world outside the exporting countries of Russia, Central Asia and the Middle East: the Atlantic region on the map (on page 11 of the magazine).

The shift of the oil deficits to the east is massive and clear. By 2030 the Asia-Pacific oil deficit will be seven times that of the Atlantic, where demand will grow more slowly, even without the Copenhagen climate change targets. Production will increase in the deep Atlantic and, controversially, from the heavy oil and tar sands in Canada and Venezuela. By 2030 the Asia-Pacific deficit will be around seventy percent of consumption, compared to ten percent in the Atlantic.

Map that matters

To understand the eastward tilt it is helpful to look at the world in the broad geographical and logistic regions rather than the usual presentations of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and non-OECD. In this map, the Atlantic and Asia-Pacific regions are structurally and permanently in oil deficit, while the Middle East and Russia-Eurasia regions are - at least to 2030 - in structural surplus.

Broadly speaking, the Atlantic region is the basis of the world oil market: private sector companies are responsible for most imports and probably about half the exports. There is an active, free oil trade between countries in the region, open to all, with a unified price structure based on the commodity markets in London and New York. In the Atlantic region the market offers the security of diversity.

The Asia-Pacific region is rather different. Although it is a quantity leader, Asia is a pricefollower. Imports to China, Indonesia and India are mainly in the hands of state-owned or state controlled companies, Middle East export contracts - from the small number of national oil companies - normally prohibit reselling.

There is not enough 'free oil' to support a liquid commodity exchange and a competitive Asian benchmark price. In this imperfect market, prices have typically been benchmarked on those in the Atlantic commodity market, at a premium above the amount paid by Atlantic importers.

Deficits are matched with surpluses through trade. There is trade between countries within these broad regions as well as between surplus and deficit regions; the total volume of trade is roughly double the big regional imbalances. There is also cross trade between the Atlantic and the Asia-Pacific. Trade ensures that prices in the two regions are closely connected.

There are striking contrasts between the dependence of the various regions in 2008. The table below shows clearly that even today:

  • The Atlantic region is far more self-sufficient than the Asia-Pacific.
  • Half of Atlantic imports are from other countries in the region, which includes north and West Africa: the integrity of this market is important.
  • The Asia-Pacific region's oil supply depends far more on the Middle East than the Atlantic region's does.

Tipping point

In 2008, seventy percent of Middle East oil was actually exported to the Asia-Pacific, while only thirty percent came to the Atlantic, whose share has steadily shrunk. By around 2015, there will be an entirely new situation - a tipping point - because the structural deficit of the Asia-Pacific will outgrow the surplus of the Middle East. By 2030 a quarter of the Asia-Pacific deficit will be met from outside the Middle East - essentially from west Africa - with some supplies from eastern Russia and Central Asia.

Apart from cross-trading, the Atlantic deficits will no longer depend on Middle East surpluses, but on the surpluses of Russia and Central Asia. This shift will have consequences which are being anticipated in strategic geopolitical and commercial developments today.

Oil may lose markets to gas. The Asia-Pacific region may consume more gas than the conservative projection of ten to twelve percent of energy demand, similar to today's, and less than half the share achieved and projected for the United States and the European Union.

However, without an increase in the gas share of the Asia-Pacific energy market, the gas deficits in the Asia-Pacific could continue to be matched by surpluses in the Middle East; a different story from that for oil. There are and will be connections between the markets through the liquefied natural gas trade and the pipeline being built from Turkmenistan to China, so prices should not move too far apart for too long.

The eastern oil markets, however imperfect, will remain connected to the Atlantic by 'pivot zones' where exporters - or importers - can choose between west and east. Whether state or private sector, they are unlikely to choose to sell - or buy - outside the competitive alternative for long. It helps that private sector companies are important in the pivot zone and that there is already infrastructure to keep options open: eastward export pipelines from Central Asia and east Siberia, export pipelines from Iraq to the Mediterranean, and the open seas of the south Atlantic and the sea of Okhotsk.

Investment in these pivot zones has a commercial strategic value: companies will compete for the most valuable permanent options, and seek support from governments interested in the security given by the diversity and flexibility of the world oil market.


Finally, there are geopolitical questions. As the Atlantic dependence on the Middle East disappears, the fear of a major physical disruption of supplies also disappears: the Asian-Pacific market would absorb the first shock, though prices everywhere would be affected.

The idea - already unrealistic - of Islamic countries using an 'oil weapon' against western states implicated in the Israel-Palestine question would be off the agenda. Those trapped in the Middle East maze need to review their options. The Middle East's Asian customers need not worry: their governments have no history in the complex origins of Middle East conflicts, and no immediate role in their resolution.

The Middle East will always be important in the oil trade, but its influence will cascade through its interdependence with the Asia-Pacific region. Atlantic importers need to focus attention on the interests of Russia, Central Asia, and Atlantic Africa, where global oil markets, and oil security, will balance in future.

John Mitchell, Associate Fellow, Energy, Environment and Resource Governance, Chatham House

Jihad Jane and the Risk of Domestic Terrorism

By Brian Michael Jenkins

This commentary appeared on AOL News on March 12, 2010.

The revelation of the arrest in October of Colleen Renee LaRose, who had adopted the pathetically predictable nom de guerre Jihad Jane, once again focuses national attention on homegrown terrorism.

But while worrisome, this threat needs to be kept in perspective. When you look at the data, and the history of terrorism, the picture is decidedly mixed.

Here's what we know:

From Sept. 11, 2001, to the end of 2009, there were 45 cases of domestic terrorism. That doesn't mean actual attacks. These include cases where American citizens or residents plotted to carry out terrorist attacks here; plotted here to carry out terrorist attacks abroad; were accused of providing material support to foreign terrorist organizations; or left the U.S. to join jihadist organizations in Afghanistan, Pakistan or Somalia.

In 2009, there were 13 cases, an increase from the average of about four cases a year from 2002 to 2008, there was an average of about four cases a year. There was also a marked increase in the number of individuals involved in 2009.

But while 45 cases might seem significant, keep in mind an average of only three people were accused in each case—and half the cases involved just a single person. In all, 116 individuals have been indicted since 2002, plus some missing Somalis who may have left the country to join fighters in Somalia.

And only two of the events, both occurring in 2009, resulted in fatalities: a soldier at an Army recruiting office in Arkansas, and the 13 people killed by Army Major Nidal Hassan at Fort Hood, Texas. Significantly, both involved lone gunmen who had decided to kill – a difficult-to-detect and all-too-common occurrence in the United States that often has nothing to do with terrorism.

Also important is the fact that, for the most part, these individuals recruited themselves into the role of terrorists in response to jihadist propaganda or events in the world. Many of them began their journey on the Internet, which has seen a significant increase in English-language jihadist Web sites and chat rooms.

And most of the plots could be described as more aspirational than operational. The would-be terrorists contemplated attacks on easy targets: shopping malls, subways and commuter trains, synagogues, federal and commercial buildings, banks, Army recruiting centers and other facilities. Some considered assassinating prominent U.S. politicians. Probably not all of the interrupted plots, if undiscovered, would have matured into actual terrorist attacks.

Keep in mind, too, what hasn't happened since 9/11. There's been no sustained jihadist terrorist campaign in the United States. The local Muslim community has rejected overwhelmingly its appeals and has actively intervened to dissuade those with more radical tendencies from violence. Domestic intelligence efforts have been expanded and improved and, thus far, have succeeded in thwarting all but two attacks. This has contributed to a deterrent effect.

It's also worth noting that America has seen far worse when it comes to domestic terrorism. In fact, the volume of terrorist activity was far greater in the 1970s, which saw 60 to 70 incidents, mostly bombings, on U.S. soil each year. Terrorists hijacked airliners; held hostages in Washington, New York, Chicago and San Francisco; bombed embassies, corporate headquarters and government buildings; robbed banks; murdered diplomats; and blew up power transformers, causing widespread blackouts.

These weren't one-off affairs but sustained campaigns by terrorist gangs that avoided capture for years.

Today's American jihadists plot deadlier schemes, but fortunately they lack the connectivity and capability to sustain the terrorist campaigns of the 1970s. What authorities now confront are tiny but potentially still lethal conspiracies, lone gunmen and a growing gallery of Jihad Janes and Jihad Joes.

This should not permit complacency. One competent operative, or a couple of would-be warriors who receive training abroad and return, can change the landscape and our perceptions.

PROFILE: Saturn temple Sri Mandeswara Swami in Mandapalli

March 13th 2010 was Shani Triodasi an auspicious day for Hindus in India, I've visited this famous ancient Saturn temple in Mandapalli for darshan. I had to stand under scorching sun for 5 hours to get darshan. A profile of the temple.

Sri Mandeswara Swami Temple

Mandapalli is Situated 38 Km from Rajahmundry, 60 Km from Kakinada and 30 Km from Amalapuram.In the days of yore, this locality was the holy ashram of the sage Dhadhichi Maharshi. This hermit Dhadhichi has done a supreme sacrifice of donating his valuable spinal cord for the mighty and powerful weapon popularly known as Vajrayudha of Lord Indra, which was employed to kill the deadly asuraas. The weapons wielded by the eight suras in the eight directions called astadikpalakas, killed innumerable ghostly demons. To avenge the death of these demons certain other demons called Aswadha and Pippale invaded the area under reference and brought about untold havoc.

At last the eminent hermit 'Agasta' living in South India obliging the prayers of the people and their King assured them of the death of these giants in the hands of 'Lord Sani' the son of the Sun God. Further they appealed Sani Deva to protect them by putting an end to these terrible monsters 'Aswadha and Pippala'. Sani made up his mind to kill the monsters for which he had to wage a war for one long year and killed them. As a mark of this glorious victory he installed an idol of 'Lord Siva' here. This instillation of Sivalinga; became necessary for atoning sins of kings that belonged to Kasyapa Dynasty.

So in obedience to the sacred advise of the Maharushis, Sani atoned the sin of Brahma hatya by installing and adoring Lord Siva. After that Sani declared that whoever worship this Linga by offering the dear gingelli oil etc. would be blessed. He further said that he would bless such devotees obviating all evils that befall them due to the curse Satru. For this reason, Lord Eswara is popularly known as Saneswara or Mandeswara. So people offer gingelli products which are dear to Sani who is the diety here.

She is sponsored by Siva. This Linga is said to be one of the Sapta Maharshis. There is also another version that the wives of the Saptha Maharshis installed this lingam here.

Sri Brahmeswara Swamyvaru

In ancient days this was the area where Lord Brahma performed a great YAGNAM and hence this is called Brahmagundam, as the sacred fire of the Yagnam has not extinguished for a long time. Gouthama Maharshi, made the river Godavari to flow thought it. Hence it is also known as Brahmagundam. Lord Brahma installed the idol of the "Eswara" in this place.

Sri Nageswara Swamy

After Saturn killed the Asuras, he gifted away, the holy region to the Maharshis and "Brahmins". Here "Karkotaka" a ferocious Snake-King had performed penance. The Maharshis were terribly afraid of the Karkotaka and at their request the "Karkotaka" left the place. If any one installs the idol of the Lord Siva and worships him, he will be free from the snake bites and threat from snakes.

Sri Venugopala Swamy

Dhadhichi Maharshi presided in Gopala Kshetram on the banks of the Godavari. Gowthama Maharshi implored Trayambakeswara for the river Ganga to flow out from his Jhata Jhutam, in order to get rid of the sins. Gowthama Maharshi installed idol of Lord Venu Gopala Swami beside the river hence this place is called as Gopala Kshetram.

Kalyanam of Sri Swamivaru (Magha Bahula Ekhadasi) (February/March every year)
Devi Navaratrulu (Aswayuja Masam Nine days) (September/October every year)
Karthika Masam (November/December every year)
Lakshapatri Puja (Karthika Masam) (November/December every year)
Sani Trayodasi Festivals

No Guest House available except Yatri-Nivas small family portion constructed by 15 persons jointly available without any equipment. It is being used by the Donor's every month for their stay on visit to Mandapalli.

Turkey and Ergenekon: From Farce To Tragedy

12 Mar 2010.

An epic military, political, and security scandal continues to absorb Turkey. The affair's latest bizarre sub-plots make the tensions between the country's 'deep state' and its constitutional order even more acute, says Bill Park for openDemocracy.

By Bill Park for

The sprawling, chaotic, all-consuming “Ergenekon” investigation into the activities of Turkey’s so-called derin devlet (“deep state”) shows no sign of abating. Indeed, its tentacles are spreading ever further as it moves from enveloping its politicians and public to polarising the state’s core institutions.

The reverberations of a seemingly permanent yet ever-elusive political scandal have reached a decisive stage at the highest level of official politics. Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and head of the ruling Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice & Development Party /AKP) intends to bring a thirteen-part constitutional-reform package to parliament by the end of March 2010. Its passage would enable oversight of the party’s key institutional adversary, the Hakimler ve Savcılar Yüksek Kurulu (supreme board of judges and prosecutors / HSYK). But Ergenekon’s corrosive effect is equally evident in the longer-term divisions it is fomenting within Turkey’s military and judiciary, which the latest developments in the affair are sharpening (see Soner Cagaptay, “What's Really Behind Turkey's Coup Arrests?”, Foreign Policy, 25 February 2010).

A conflict of shadows

The frenzy surrounding Ergenekon has begun to focus primarily on one of the overarching conspiracy’s many sub-plots: namely, the extraordinary 5,000-page Balyoz (Sledgehammer) plan. This was revealed in January 2010 by the Turkish journal Taraf, the leakers’ outlet of choice. The plan - approved by the military elite in 2003, following the AKP’s election victory of November 2002 - was modelled on the orchestrated disruption that preceded the “generals’ coup” of 12 September 1980. Its aim seems to have been to generate an atmosphere of crisis in Turkey in order to prepare the ground for a military takeover (see Gareth Jenkins, Between Fact and Fantasy: Turkey's Ergenekon Investigation [Silk Road Studies, August 2009]).

The Balyoz plan’s detail mixes the fantastical and the deeply serious. It envisaged the bombing of Istanbul mosques during Friday prayers; the deliberate shooting down of a Turkish warplane over the Aegean to provoke a crisis with Greece; names of friendly and hostile journalists; and lists of bureaucrats, ambassadors, and regional governors to be targeted for arrest.

The military elite insists that the plan is no more than a war-game scenario; its voluminous documentation was dismissed by the chief-of-staff Ilker Basbug as amounting to a “piece of paper”. This stance ran into trouble over a single scrawl on one such piece. The signature of an army colonel, Dursan Cicek, was found on a document (published by Taraf in June 2009) outlining ways to discredit the AKP and the Fethullah Gülen movement; Basbug said that the signature was forged, though civilian forensic and police agencies declared it authentic - a finding now acknowledged by an internal military investigation.

This incident is emblematic of how each story-line in the wider Ergenekon chain of disclosures tends to unfold in a way that intensifies the pressure on the Turkish military. For example, the signature of a retired general, Cetin Dogan, is now also alleged to appear in the Balyoz archive. Dogan was charged on 26 February 2010 as part of the Balyoz investigation - along with the former special-forces commander Engin Alan, the most senior of around fifty active and retired officers detained in the most recent round-up (see Gareth H Jenkins, “Defense against documents: the Turkish military’s rearguard action”, Turkish Analyst, 23 November 2009).

Dogan suggests that the former chief-of-staff General Hilmi Özkök should confess what he knows about the affair; Özkök in turn claims to have had no knowledge of Balyoz, and insists the then land-commander General Aytac Yalman should take responsibility; Yalman agrees, but refuses to speak until given permission from the current chief-of-staff Ilker Basbug. The unsettled Basbug seems more concerned with identifying whistleblowers from within the ranks than with assisting the investigation, and is increasingly shrill in his warnings about the morale of the armed forces (see “Başbuğ: 'A demoralized military is a national problem'”, Hürriyet Daily News, 11 February 2010).

A landscape of plots

The agitation surrounding the Balyoz plot has to fight for space in Turkey’s media with the equally convoluted Kafes (Cage) “operation action-plan”. This subterranean project was exposed in April 2009 after the discovery in Istanbul’s Poyrazköy district of an illegal arms-cache provoked a police-raid on the home of a retired Turkish army major.

The Kafes plan, allegedly (that word again) conceived within the navy command, compounds the multifariousness of Ergenekon and the scale of Balyoz with an ambition all of its own. Its bizarre features include an operation to assassinate non-Muslims (along the lines of the killing of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in January 2007) in the hope that international and domestic blame would attach to the AKP government; the use of prostitutes to blackmail unreliable senior naval officers; and the concealment of explosives inside a submarine exhibited at Istanbul’s Rahmi M Koc museum supposedly intended for detonation during a visit of schoolchildren. In the latter case, the police’s retrieval of the explosives in July 2009 was followed by an internal military investigation which concluded that a navy unit had been tasked to remove them - and “forgot” to do so.

The Kafes and Balyoz controversies have overshadowed even the arrest of two special-forces command-officers in December 2009; they were detained outside the home of deputy prime minister Bulent Arinc on suspicion of plotting his assassination. The investigation into this incident led to the military making an unprecedented concession: that a civilian judge could conduct a thorough search of a super-sensitive military facility: in this case the special-warfare department’s Ankara headquarters, known as the “cosmic room”. The judge concerned received death-threats; if that was predictable, the arrest of seven military officers who had been tailing him was - even by Turkey’s “new” standards - more startling (see Steven A Cook, “The Weakening of Turkey's Military” [Council on Foreign Relations, 1 March 2010]).

The army for its part continues to dismiss officers suspected of Islamist sentiment, if so far none alleged to have been involved in Ergenekon-related activities (though in February 2010 a military tribunal did give a four-year prison sentence to a lieutenant-colonel who had kept at home weapons belonging to the armed forces). More typical of its attitude is that on 3 March 2010, the third army chief General Saldiray Berk - who has to date refused to appear before a court for questioning over his supposed political plotting - led the military’s biannual, high-profile military exercises. The event - “Sarikamis 2010 Winter”, referring to its location in the eastern province of Kars - was, somewhat unusually, not graced with the presence of any representatives of the Turkish government.

Turkey’s fracture-zone

The avalanche of revelations associated with the Ergenekon investigation carries several “unknown unknowns” in its thunderous train. A major one is the impact it might be having on Turkish public opinion, which is traditionally well-disposed towards the armed forces. An effect of the long crisis has been to strip the military (for the time being at least) of its untouchability, as the detailed exposure of its disruptive plans alternates with embarrassing personal dramas (such as the dispute between teams of doctors as to whether three indicted retired generals - Levent Ersöz, Sener Eruygur and Hursit Tolon - are fit enough to stand trial).

In these circumstances the tensions between Turkey’s military, judiciary and political leaders are becoming acute. They were on display when on 4 February 2010 the Ankara government rescinded the longstanding protocol (Emasya) granting the military the right to assume responsibility for public order in the event of a breakdown (see Omer Taspinar, “Turkey’s Difficult Democratization”, Brookings, 15 February 2010); and again after the chief prosecutor of Erzurum in eastern Turkey ordered the arrest of his Erzincan counterpart Ilhan Cihaner on 17 February for Ergenekon-related activities - and was himself dismissed almost immediately by the judges’ supreme board (HSYK).

The latter is far more than a local affair. The moderate-Islamist AKP government regards the HSYK as a bastion of the secularist-Ataturkist order, and suspects it of being the agent of a concerted attempt to undermine the Ergenekon prosecutors. This underlines the significance of the government’s presentation of its constitutional-reform proposals to the Ankara parliament; these include measures (first outlined in 2007) to restructure the HSYK in conformity with the process of accession to the European Union. In turn the HSYK is conducting an enquiry into whether the government might be culpable of illegitimate pressure on the judiciary - and if the answer is “yes”, the AKP could share the fate of its Refah Partisi (Welfare Party) predecessor in 1998 and find itself closed down by the constitutional court.

Turkey’s lawyers and politicians are in dispute too about the ramifications of a constitutional-court ruling of January 2010, again part of the requirement to make Turkey’s legal order compatible with the European Union’s acquis communautaire. The ruling overturns a law passed in July 2009 which had given civilian courts the right to try military officers for non-military crimes. This outcome alone has the capacity to tip the entire Ergenekon investigation into an even deeper abyss.

Turkey is surpassing itself in its capacity for the absurd - and soon also, perhaps, in its capacity for the tragic.

Bill Park is a senior lecturer in the department of defence studies at Kings College London.

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IRAN: No Nowruz Money for Underprivileged Families

Persia House

Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation Suffers Budget Shortage, Regime Likely to Face Further Challenges in Providing Services to Citizens

Borna News – Summary translation by Persia House
March 12, 2010

Hossein Anvari, Head of the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation, stated: “This year, our organization cannot afford to pay Nowruz [New Years] money to underprivileged families supported by the foundation. Because the committee is facing a budget shortage and lacks sufficient credit, the existing [financial situation] is not sufficient to support these families. We [already] gave each family $40 [40,000 tomans] for the Fajr [anniversary of the Islamic Revolution].” For the original article in Persian, click here.

Persia House Analysis:

The inability of the Islamic Republic’s premier charity organization to provide for Iran’s underprivileged families suggests that, as the country’s economic situation deteriorates, the government likely will face further constraints in providing essential goods and services to its citizens. According to the most recent statistics, by the end of March 2008, 1.5 million people (almost 700,000 families) from rural areas, and 4.5 million people (over one million families) from urban areas were receiving support from the Imam Khomeini Foundation.

While it is considered a charity organization, the Imam Khomeini Foundation relies heavily on government funding and is closely tied to the Office of the Supreme Leader. Prior to the 2009 Persian New Year, or Nowruz, the Imam Khomeini Foundation received $1.4 billion in government credit to distribute to poor families.

The foundation’s lack of funding could also be the result of a drop in donations due to the increasing economic hardship Iranians are facing. Traditionally, as the Persian New Year approaches, private donations increase due to the custom of charity-giving. Prior to last year’s Nowruz, for example, the foundation established 15,000 stations nationwide for monetary and non-monetary donations and received over $200 million in private donations.

Source Information:

Borna is a conservative news site that is supportive of President Ahmadinejad.