As Putin Forces Hold On To Power, Evidence Mounts Of Pre-Election Press Crackdown

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia won slightly less than 50% of the vote in the State Duma elections, which coincided with an unprecedented series of threats against media and hacker episodes against websites of many liberal outlets,

A Russia protester hauled away Sunday night (@adagamov)
A Russia protester hauled away Sunday night (@adagamov)
Alexander Zhuravlev

MOSCOW--On the day of the State Duma elections, the chief editor of the online publication Mikhail Katov was summoned to the headquarters of Russia's state media watchdog Roskomnadzor.

The day before, he had received notification that his site violated media regulations in its coverage of the Duma elections. "It turned out that the reason for the summons were two letters, one signed by the head of the Central Executive Committee, Vladimir Churov, and another by the deputy attorney general, Alexander Buksman," Katov said.

The main claim was that was publishing information about violations the United Russia party allegedly committed during the pre-election period. "The committee did not recognise these violations, and therefore they considered the publication of this information as ‘illegal agitation,"" Katov said.

"Surprisingly, no concrete examples of our violations were presented; they simply told us that we were behaving badly," the editor added. "They wanted us to talk about United Russia as one would about the dead, to say only good things. In that way, the media was pressured."

But Katov stressed that despite the warnings he received: " will stick to its editorial policy."

Roskomnadzor has refused to comment. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev's United Russia party held on to parliamentary power in the Duma elections, though its popularity has slipped considerably.

Hackings go uninvestigated

Shortly after the voting ended, the website of the radio station Echo Moscow crashed. Editor-in-chief Alexei Venedictov said the site was victim of a DOS attack and was offline from 6.40 a.m. The station has already appealed to the Central Executive Committee, and Venedictov will make a complaint to the Prosecutor General.

"We directly link the attack on the Echo Moscow site with the information about the State Duma elections, and in particular, details of election violations which were published on our site," said Venedictov. "The attack on the site on election day was obviously linked with attempts to disrupt publication of information about the violations."

The chairman of Echo Moscow's board of directors, Nikolai Senkevich, said: "I think that any hacker attack on any resource that leads to financial losses is tantamount to theft."

The websites Live Journal,, as well as the sites of the newspaper "Big City" and the New Times also stopped working. The day before the elections, the website of Kommersant was subject to a hacker attack, resulting in a 35% drop in visitors.

The head of Kommersant's legal division, Georgi Ivanov, said the paper would file a complaint, but is not holding its breath over any investigation. "Whenever there is a hacker attack, we always make a complaint, but it is simply an expression of our position, a symbolic gesture. None of our complaints have ever led to anything," he said. "Honestly, I don't think I have heard of any case of DOS attacks being successfully investigated."

Also affected was the website of the country's only independent election observer, Golos, which was targeted over several days and even accused of treason for accepting western financial grants. The watchdog's director, Lilia Shibanova, was detained at a Moscow airport for 12 hours and her laptop seized while a court fined Golos $1,000 for violating a law that prohibits publication of election opinion research five days before a vote.

Back in April, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev discussed hacker attacks with the editors from the mass media and pledged to find experts that could investigate them. But Novaya Gazyeta editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov doubted this would happen as this would effectively mean that "the group that carries out attack, will investigate them."

Read more from Kommersant in Russian

photo - adagamov via twitter

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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