Behind The Scenes As Berlusconi Clings To Power

Italy's leader digs in amidst troubling silence from allies and the Catholic Church, as a sex scandal involving underage prostitutes may pose the gravest threat to his 15-year hold over Italian public life.

Silvio Berlusconi (Elena Torre)

The 74-year-old prime minister vehemently denies any wrongdoing after prosecutors allege that he had sex with a "significant" number of prostitutes, including at least one underage girl, at his villa in Milan. Prostitution is not a crime in Italy, but abetting it is. Meanwhile, the drama of whether Silvio Berlusconi can survive politically is playing out in the marbled halls of the Italian capital.

ROME - Right now, there are two faces to the Berlusconi machine. On the one hand, the Prime Minister is on the attack, head down, with no apparent hesitation. Yet even among some important partisans in the Italian leader's camp, there are those who hope he takes a step back, but no one has the courage to suggest this to him. They hope that his right-hand man, Gianni Letta, might make such a plea, though it is impossible that the faithful under-secretary to the prime minister would counsel his boss to prepare for his succession in the face of criminal prosecution.

On Monday, there was a procession of leaders from Berlusconi's People of Freedom party (PDL) to meet Letta, who advised everyone to remain united and compact around Berlusconi. He insisted that there are no actual crimes in question, that a trial would not stand, and that all would be forgotten by next week. The repercussions on Italy's image abroad are the only real worry, not domestic consequences.

A cabinet minister notes that the accusations of sexual escapades have the effect of radicalizing public opinion both for and against Berlusconi, and that "eventually this has always brought more votes to (Berlusconi), seen as a victim of prosecutors who spy on him and his house guests, who get treated by the media as criminals."

In short, taking a step back? Not on your life. "If I resign, they'll tear me to pieces," he reportedly told associates on Monday. "I can't go to the magistrates, because they won't guarantee my rights." Berlusconi is convinced that the real objective of Milan prosecutors is to prevent him from the possibility of one day reaching the prestigious position of president of the republic, by raising a moral issue: "They want to prevent me from finishing the term, and get me out of the political scene as they did in the past with other leaders. But I will not finish like Bettino Craxi." Former Prime Minister Craxi died in exile in Tunisia, where he'd fled in the face of criminal charges.

So marching orders are, everybody keep your heads down to avoid "the mud", and wave the threat of early elections. Opponents, including a recently formed "third pole" of moderates, consider this an empty threat: there are ever fewer who hope for early elections, because the outcome would be so uncertain.

Berlusconi is most concerned about the silence of his allies, the once-separatist Northern League, which appears increasingly worried that a political tsunami could sweep away the federalist reforms it has been pushing in Parliament.

Another concern is the silence of the Church. The story of Ruby, the 17-year-old Moroccan exotic dancer, and the spicy details that have since emerged, is increasingly embarrassing. Berlusconi and his allies are afraid that they may be permanently abandoned by Church leaders and their constituents. Even if the prosecutors fail to prove the existence of a crime, the moral question remains. And that, for Italy and our international credibility, is the central concern for the President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano. Letta has been in contact with Napolitano to confirm that the prime minister will continue to move forward with earlier plans to widen the majority by looking for new allies among members of parliament.

On Tuesday, Berlusconi's allies and lawyers are meeting to discuss strategy. The closest advisors are lining up to defend the boss until the end, even as some begin to wonder how long they can follow the logic of: "Samson dying with all the Philistines."

Read the original article in Italian

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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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