These days, it’s hard to stop news from Washington, D.C., from flooding your news feed. We take a moment every week to bring you important stories beyond the White House and the Capitol. Here’s what we’re reading now.
1.A closer look at suicides
Designer Kate Spade and chef Anthony Bourdain died by suicide last week.
The two high-profile deaths came the same week as a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says suicide rates have been climbing for more than 15 years in nearly every state in the U.S. Some of the largest increases happened in the Midwest, the CDC said. Nevada was the only state that didn’t see suicide rates rise.
Nearly 45,000 Americans died by suicide in 2016; it’s currently the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the CDC. More than half of people who killed themselves did not have a known mental health condition at the time of their deaths, the CDC noted.
PBS NewsHour’s Amna Nawaz talks with Dr. Liza Gold about risks, treatment and the scope of the problem.
About 50 percent of all suicides are firearms, Dr. Liza Gold also pointed out on the PBS NewsHour last week. Access to firearms could be a major risk factor, The New York Times reported; states with the strictest gun laws have lower suicide rates. [CDC]
Why it matters: Though high-profile suicides made news this week, climbing suicide rates are affecting all parts of the country, including many rural areas, where low wages and poverty can contribute to the problem. Rural areas have historically been flagged with suicide rates higher than their urban counterparts, according to the CDC.
The CDC found that more than 83 percent of people who died by suicide are white. Of those, nearly 77 percent are male. But “suicide isn’t just a ‘white people thing,'”, sociologist and criminologist Kimya N. Dennis wrote for The Conversation. “People in [African-American] culture, as well as Hispanic, Asian and American Indian communities, are less likely to acknowledge the possibility of having a health condition or seek mental health services,” she writes, which has led to incomplete data from these communities as well as an “one size fits all” approach from the mental health community that doesn’t always address the cultural differences at hand.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).
2. Spain welcomes 629 migrants after Italy and Malta refuse to let them in
Last week, 629 migrants were rescued off the Libyan coast by the Italian coast guard. But the incident set off a spat over who would take them in.
Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Italy’s far-right party, refused to let the migrants into the country, and instead asked Malta to take in the migrants. Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that was not his country’s responsibility because it had no role in the rescue, adding “Italy broke international rules and caused a standoff.”
Finally, Spain announced it will allow the rescue boat to dock with the migrants in Valencia. And newly-elected Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez also said Spain will allow the migrants to remain in the country.
Still, it is unclear how or when the ship will dock in Valencia. The ship is about 750 nautical miles from the port. [The Guardian]
Why it matters: Italy’s new populist leaders were sworn into office June 1, after campaigning on hardline anti-immigrant and anti-European Union sentiments. Some had previously called to ditch the Euro, or even leave the EU, Brexit-style. During monthslong negotiations to form the new government, the leaders gave up on those demands, but remained adamant in their plans to strictly limit African migrants. According to UN estimates, more than 600,000 African migrants have sought asylum in Italy since 2014.
“Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration,” Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said Sunday.
The rhetoric of the new right-wing Italian government has concerned EU leaders, as has the populist trend sweeping across Europe in recent elections.
In December, 31-year-old Sebastian Kurz was elected Austrian Chancellor after running on an anti-immigrant platform and calling for a limit on the number of refugees admitted into the country. Alternative for Germany, or AfD a right-wing German party, made significant electoral strides last September. The party gained seats in the German parliament for the first time, making it the third-largest party in the coalition government. Supporters of the party cited opposition the the number of refugees allowed by the government, led by Chancellor Angela Merkel.
President of the European Commission Donald Tusk congratulated Italy’s new leaders after they were sworn in this month, but also emphasized the importance of “unity and solidarity” among EU members.
3. A new investigation finds Florida failed to review background checks for concealed carry permits for more than a year
For more than a year, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which conducts background checks for gun purchases, failed to use a national database that retains information about criminal backgrounds from all 50 states, according to the Florida Office of Inspector General. Those findings were first reported by the Tampa Bay Times last week, in an investigation that suggests employees failed to use the National Instant Criminal Background Check System because “the employee in charge of the background checks could not log into the system.”
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam was in charge of the background check program, and made an effort to speed up the process since he was elected to the position in 2010. During the period in which the NICS system was not in use, the state received unprecedented numbers of permit applications. According to the Tampa Bay Times, 268,000 applications for permits were approved and 6,470 were denied during the year the system was not in use, for incomplete applications or state ineligibility. Today, 1.8 million people across the state have concealed weapon permits. [The Tampa Bay Times]
Why it matters: The lapse in using NICS information coincides with major mass shootings in Florida. It also comes with the rise of Putnam’s political ambitions, and the scandal threatens to derail his gubernatorial bid.
Previous reports indicate Omar Mateen, who opened fired on the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando in June 2016, legally purchased his gun from a federally licensed firearms dealer. The man who sold the weapons to Mateen told news outlets after the shooting that Mateen had passed his background check.
Though the system was working in February 2018 at the time of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, survivors and gun control advocates partly blamed the massacre on lax gun laws in the state, and pushed for greater restrictions. In March, Republican Governor Rick Scott signed a law that increased the age to buy a gun to 21, and enacted a three-day waiting period.
Putnam has highlighted his accomplishments on expediting gun permits in his gubernatorial campaign. But Democratic candidates have quickly jumped on the issue, many calling for him to drop out of the race. On Friday, Putnam put out a statement calling the employee in charge of the background checks “both deceitful and negligent,” adding that the Agricultural Department “immediately launched an investigation and implemented safeguards to ensure this never happens again.”
4. A spotlight on the lack of dentists and lack of access to care in rural America
A Washington Post report last week put a spotlight on the lack of dentists in rural America. The story cites a National Rural Health Association report that found of the country’s 62 million rural U.S. Americans, nearly 43 percent don’t have access to dental care. And there aren’t enough practicing dentists, either, particularly in West Virginia, the Post reported.
The problem is compounded by the state’s apparent inability to prevent a “revolving door” of dentist professionals who are cycled in and out of the state. Despite the state’s efforts to lure dentists into the area with a loan-assistance program for a couple of years, many do not stay past the two-year obligation, the Post reported. [The Washington Post]
Why it matters: Even if West Virginia was able to overturn scarcity concerns with dentists in the state, that’s only half the problem.
“Affordability is the big thing,” Richard Meckstroth of West Virginia University told the newspaper. The Post also points to a report from the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute, which found in 2008 that nearly 20 percent of adults between the ages of 21 and 64 did not get dental care in the past year. “Could not afford/no insurance” was the top reason why.
5. Who is responsible for the deadly Grenfell Tower fire? An independent inquiry aims to find out
On June 14, 2017, a fire that began inside a 24-story public housing unit in London’s North Kensington neighborhood quickly spiraled out of control, killing 72 people and injuring 70 others.
Nearly a year later, a government-led independent inquiry has started to collect testimony about what happened that night and who is responsible.
There were just less than 300 people living in the building at the time of the fire. About half of those people were killed or injured. Details shared in hearings last week suggest the problems began with structural issues, as detailed by the Washington Post: “doors to each apartment were not fireproofed as they should have been. Emergency overrides for elevators stopped working. Ventilation systems did not do their job. There was no intercom to alert residents. There were no sprinklers.”
The building was recovered with a new material in 2016, but it was flammable, experts said, which likely helped the fire spread more easily. And first responders ordered residents to stay inside, delaying evacuation by 1.5 hours and giving fewer people a chance of survival, testimony revealed. [The Washington Post]
Why it matters: An investigation of this scale is rare in Britain, the Post reports. So far, the inquiry has collected more than 1,100 witness statements and has involved close to 400 companies, the BBC reported.
The outcome of the inquiry, expected this fall, will determine whether civil or criminal charges are filed. It’s also raised new questions about the quality of public housing and how well officials enforce building standards. More than 200 buildings in London are wrapped with the same kind of material as Grenfell, so any changes to building code could force renovations or closures of those structures, too.
Prime Minister Theresa May said ahead of memorials planned this week that it was “clear the response was not good enough.” More than 200 families needed new housing after the fire, but six months after the fire, only 42 had been placed in new accommodations, the BBC found — a much slower timeline than the three-week window May had promised.
May said she also regretted her personal response to the fire; many local residents criticized her for not meeting directly with survivors in the days following the disaster.
“The residents of Grenfell Tower needed to know that those in power recognized and understood their despair … And I will always regret that by not meeting them that day, it seemed as though I didn’t care.”