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Abuse, neglect and exploitation in ‘adult family homes’

Next year, the oldest baby boomers will turn 65, raising the question of how America will care for a burgeoning senior population unlike any the country has ever seen. The trend across the country is toward small, community-based residential care that involves little government regulation compared with that of traditional nursing homes. In theory, this is a great idea. But Seattle Times investigative reporter Michael Berens has spent more than a year and a half investigating abuses in such homes in Seattle, and has uncovered 236 unreported deaths linked to abuse or neglect in these adult family homes, as well as accounts of

elderly victims who were imprisoned in their rooms, roped into their beds at night, strapped to chairs during the day so they wouldn’t wander off, drugged into submission or left without proper medical treatment for weeks.

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Clearing the air: The fury over Jonathan Franzen’s ‘Freedom’

Franzen at The Progressive Reading Series in 2008. Photo: Flickr/Jennifer Yin.

Note: This post contains details about the plot of “Freedom.”

For about two weeks now, I’ve had “Freedom” on my mind. That’s “Freedom,” Jonathan Franzen’s acclaimed new novel, and also the notion of “freedom,” with its many attendant qualities — autonomy, individualism, responsibility. “Freedom” will do that to you. Franzen’s work penetrates deeply: in the characters, in their struggles, in their fits of impetuousness and deliberate malice, lies an epic clash between different views of what it is to be human, to be American, to be free.

There’s also something like that going on in the endless dissection of Franzen’s new masterpiece, and the hype surrounding the book’s debut. In that brouhaha, as well, there are two views of what it is to be human, to be American, to be free — and to be a journalist. I hadn’t considered it until I asked Jodi Picoult, the novelist and leader of the anti-Franzen campaign, if she’d had a chance to actually read “Freedom” yet. When she responded that she was “done talking about Franzen” — fair enough, given the firestorm she ignited — I thanked her and told her I would probably write something about the book regardless. To that, she responded, “Where’s the pressure to do a Franzen piece coming from?”

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Finding an optimist in the Middle East peace process

U.S.-mediated talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials moved to Jerusalem on Wednesday, a symbolic gesture designed to lend credibility to the budding peace process. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t seem to have worked. Islamic militants are still lobbing mortars, and Israeli jets are still bombing tunnels. An expiration date on a settlement moratorium looms, and there seems to be little hope for a breakthrough.

Perhaps the most dispiriting aspect of the negotiations is the apparent lack of faith in the Obama administration among foreign diplomats and observers. As one exasperated reporter asked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a briefing en route to Egypt on Tuesday: “Is there anything new that you’re putting on the table that will make a difference this time?”

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Photo: A hard day’s work

Worker at a carbon black plant in Sunray Texas, 1942. Photo: John Vachon

Cosa Nostra Verde

Forget drugs and gambling, these days the mafiosi are breaking into the low-carbon energy racket.

The Telegraph has an interesting article on crime syndicate infiltration of Europe’s wind energy business. With a nascent regulatory system and large amounts of money flowing through grants, loans and subsidies, the wind industry holds significant attractions for the Mafia.

On Tuesday, Italian police seized the assets of Vito Nicastri, a businessman with links to the current boss of the Sicilian Mafia. Among the 1.5 billion euros in confiscated assets were more than 40 wind and solar energy companies that appeared to be vehicles for money laundering. AFP interviewed Beppe Ruggiero, an official with the anti-Mafia association Libera:

The Mafia interest in clean energy is explained by the fact that it is a “new sector where there is more public money and less control,” Ruggiero said. “It allows the creation of new companies, and so the recycling of money. For organised crime, it’s a sector that was still unknown 15 years ago, but is becoming very important.”

Italy ranks sixth in the world in wind power, but this will be a story to keep your eye on around the globe as individuals and groups take advantage of early-stage alternative energy regulation.

Since Sofia Coppola just won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, maybe she can hang around Italy and direct Godfather IV: The Big Wind.

Wednesday morning roundup


This disturbing photo of a waterway clogged with dead fish in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana was sent to local media outlets by Parish President Billy Nungesser. Residents fear that the massive fish kill could be related to the BP oil spill.

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Primary education

Yesterday’s primary race in Washington, D.C., makes the new documentary “Waiting for Superman,” by the Academy Award-winning director of “An Inconvenient Truth,” all the more interesting. The movie is about the sad state of public education. One of the main interviewees in the movie, seen as a champion of the kids and foe of the unions, is take-no-prisoners D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. Well, yesterday the man who appointed Rhee, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, lost his primary bid to Councilman Vincent Gray, who has clashed with Rhee and supported the unions.  Gray is almost guaranteed to be the next mayor of Washington, and if he is, it is unlikely Rhee will keep her job. If she leaves, what happens to all her reforms, documented glowingly in this new movie (which opens in LA and New York on September 24, and nationally on October 7)? This one is TBD.

Home remedies for Seasonal Appetite Disorder

Change is in the air: after two months of a solitary Om echoing off the walls of my yoga studio, my morning classes are now packed; excitable children line up outside my apartment building every morning for the bus; and a newly christened jar of cinnamon sits proudly on the shelf of my very own kitchen. Fall is here… almost. What do you call this in-between season when you’re packing a sweater to work, but still wearing summer sandals? More importantly, what do you eat when it’s not quite lasagna season, but the idea of a salad for dinner starts to seem like a sad joke?
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Canada’s latest stunt in its long history of scaring us safe

Photo: Handout/

In this week’s news of, “That sounds crazy … are you sure that’s a good idea, Canada? What the hell, do it anyway,” CTV reports, “A 3-D image of a young girl chasing a ball into the street is the newest effort to prevent pedestrian accidents in West Vancouver.”

You might be thinking, ’3-D — sounds bad-ass.’ And so was I.
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