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5 important stories that have nothing to do with the White House

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.Milwaukee has failed to properly handle cases of lead poisoning in children, report says

Milwaukee Commissioner of Health Bevan Baker speaks about lead poisoning from his office during a interview in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S. November 30, 2016.  Picture taken November 30, 2016. To match Special Report USA-LEAD/TESTING   REUTERS/Darren Hauck

File photo: Former Milwaukee Commissioner of Health Bevan Baker speaks about lead poisoning in 2016. Baker left office after the mayor said his department failed to adequately follow up on lead testing. REUTERS/Darren Hauck

A three-month investigation found pervasive failings in Milwaukee’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, according to a state report by Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services obtained by the Journal Sentinel.

The report looked at 108 lead-poisoning cases reported to the city’s prevention program from 2012 to 2017 and found that more than 90 percent of the cases were closed before the amount of lead in children’s blood had dropped to safe levels, the Journal Sentinel reported. In none of the reviewed cases did the city provide documented risk assessments for lead in the homes of lead-poisoned children, and in a quarter of the cases there was no record of an investigator even visiting the home of a child with lead poisoning.

The state has given Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett until June 30 to develop a plan to address the concerns. The state also demanded the city review all 491 lead-poisoning cases that were reported from 2012 to 2017 to ensure the affected children have had proper medical care and house inspections. [Journal Sentinel]

Why it matters: According to the Centers for Disease Control, exposure to lead “can affect nearly every system in the body.” The World Health Organization says in children, high levels of lead can lead to comas, convulsions and even death. Low levels can lead to adverse brain development, reduced intelligence, antisocial behavior, kidney impairments and hypertension, among other problems. In fact, there is no level of lead exposure that is considered safe.

 t a 2016 Reuters investigation suggested this was a problem in many more places than just Flint, finding nearly 3,000 places across the U.S. with higher rates of lead poisoning.

A 2016 Reuters investigation suggested this was a problem in many more places than just Flint, finding nearly 3,000 places across the U.S. with higher rates of lead poisoning. Image by Reuters.

The report is the latest echo of a renewed national focus on lead levels in the wake of Michigan’s Flint water crisis, which began in 2014 after the city changed water sources. This caused children’s lead levels to skyrocket, and stay elevated for several months, according to the CDC, which tested 7,000 children but added that it couldn’t estimate just how many kids were affected overall. A study published in March in the Journal of Pediatrics showed that lead levels in Flint children reached an all-time low in 2016, according to the Detroit Free Press. But a 2016 Reuters investigation suggested this was a problem in many more places than just Flint, finding nearly 3,000 places across the U.S. with higher rates of lead poisoning.

Milwaukee’s Health Department website claims that the prevalence of children with lead in the blood has “dramatically declined” in recent years. Still, in 2016, 11.6 percent of Milwaukee children tested had low levels of lead in their blood, according to Milwaukee’s Health Department.

2. One in four girls in South Sudan have considered suicide, according to new report.

An internally displaced girl looks through the bamboo wall of a classroom inside a school compound in Kalma camp in Nyala, South Darfur, Sudan, November 22, 2015.  REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah - GF10000265107

An internally displaced girl looks through the bamboo wall of a classroom inside a school compound in Kalma camp in Nyala, Sudan. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah.

One in four adolescent girls in South Sudan have considered suicide in the last year, according to a new report published by the children’s organization Plan International.

Close to 2 million women and girls are at risk of gender-based violence in South Sudan, the U.N. says. This latest report, “Adolescent Girls In Crisis: Voices from South Sudan,” was compiled from interviews with 249 girls between the ages of 10 and 19. Thirty-three percent of adolescent women and girls have been the victim of sexual violence from non-partners, the report found; many of those instances “were connected to displacement, abduction or a raid.”

The girls also cited health care as a driving concern. Close to 50 percent of South Sudan’s medical facilities have been destroyed, according to the health ministry, and “many clinics and hospitals have been looted of their equipment and others have been deliberately targeted by armed groups,” the Plan International report says. South Sudanese girls “have only sporadic access to a doctor,” and 77 percent of interviewees reported they do not have enough food. [Reuters]

Why it matters: Young Sudanese girls are facing an uncertain future as their nation enters its fifth year of civil war. More than 2 million people have been internally displaced and around 2.5 million more have fled the country, creating Africa’s largest refugee crisis, according to the U.N. Sixty-five percent of those refugees are children under 18.

The U.N. has outlined a humanitarian response plan for 2018, which called for $1.7 billion to deliver “urgent humanitarian assistance,” such as food, supplies, health interventions and protection.

Other countries, including the U.S., have spent millions in aid for South Sudan. But the U.N. in February said funding for the 2018 plan was falling short.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post that “ children of South Sudan cannot wait.”

She called on the U.N. Security Council to impose an arms embargo, writing: “By imposing financial and travel restrictions on individuals responsible for threatening the peace, we can ensure they pay a cost for perpetuating violence. Only then can we begin to change the calculus of those who profit from war.”

3. A jury awards a man fatally shot by police $4 in damages

In January 2014, Gregory Vaughn Hill Jr. was shot four times and killed by a St. Lucie County, Florida, sheriff.

According to court documents, a parent picking up her child from a nearby school called police with a noise complaint about Hill’s home, where the 30-year-old was listening to music in his garage. When deputies arrived they knocked on the garage door, and then knocked on the front door when he failed to respond. This is when Hill partially opened the garage door — but then began to close it. Deputies claim they saw Hill with his “left hand on the garage door and his right hand down,” prompting one of them, Christopher Newman, to shoot through the garage door in an upward motion as it was closing.

Hill was struck by multiple bullets, according to court documents, including one to the head, which killed him. He died at the scene, but deputies believed Hill was still alive, which led to a SWAT standoff. Deputies later found an unloaded handgun in Hill’s back pocket.

Four years later, a jury announced after 10 hours of deliberation that the family would receive a total of $4 in damages: $1 for each for his three children and another for funeral expenses. That was further reduced to $0.04, because the jury found the sheriff’s office “1 percent liable” for the fatal shooting. The jury found that Hill was intoxicated — with a blood alcohol level of 0.4, several times the legal limit, according to toxicology reports — at the time of the confrontation, and therefore 99 percent responsible for his death.

In a statement after the decision, Sheriff Ken Mascara said, “We are pleased to see this difficult and tragic incident come to a conclusion,” adding that “Deputy Newman was placed in a very difficult situation” and “made the best decision he could have for his partner, himself, and the public given the circumstances he faced.”

Monique Davis, Hill’s fiance, described the jury’s decision as a “slap in the face.” “There are a lot of questions I want to ask,” she told the New York Times.

The family’s attorney, John Phillips, plans to appeal the jury’s verdict. The family has set up a GoFundMe account for Hill’s children. “It seems like the jury gave up,” Phillips said. [The New York Times]

Why it matters: The case has raised many questions and caused plenty of confusion, both over state and federal laws but also how a jury determines the amount of money a family is awarded in damages after a police-involved shooting.

The jury was tasked with settling two claims: whether Hill’s federal civil rights were violated, and also whether the sheriff’s office was negligent in handling the case. The jury appeared to be confused when weighing those claims, the family’s lawyer, Phillips told the local newspaper TCPalm.

Some questions sent to the judge by the jury were never answered, Phillips pointed out, and at one point they struggled to reach a unanimous decision.

The jury has not come forward since the decision to offer insight into its decision (and they aren’t required to). But another lawyer told TCPalm that “the option of nominal damages is given to juries as a way to acknowledge a wrong, even if they don’t believe large damages are warranted.”

“In cases like this with nominal awards, juries are saying, ‘We don’t like what happened, but we’re not awarding a lot (of money) to it,” Osamudia James, who teaches law at the University of Miami, said.

4. Spotify backtracks its “hateful conduct” policy

R. Kelly performs at the 2013 BET Awards in Los Angeles, California on June 30, 2013. Photo by Phil McCarten/Reuters

R. Kelly performs at the 2013 BET Awards in Los Angeles, California on June 30, 2013. Photo by Phil McCarten/Reuters

Late last week, Spotify appeared to reverse a decision that resulted in the removal of R. Kelly and XXXTentacion’s music from its algorithm-driven playlists.

In April, Spotify announced a new “Hate Content & Hateful Conduct Policy” that pushed for “openness, diversity, tolerance and respect” on the giant streaming platform. “We don’t censor content because of an artist’s or creator’s behavior, but we want our editorial decisions—what we choose to program—to reflect our values,” Spotify said of its decision at the time. The music was still apparently available, but the company said it didn’t want to promote it.

In a June 1 statement, Spotify said that while the company believes “our intentions were good, the language was too vague, we created confusion and concern,” adding that it hadn’t spent enough time getting input internally from its own team and from their partners before issuing the guidelines.

R. Kelly has repeatedly denied years-old sexual misconduct allegations against him. But the Time’s Up movement in Hollywood, borne out of the #MeToo era, has recently put the allegations back in the spotlight, backing a #MuteRKelly campaign in response to the claims against him. Rapper XXXTentacion is facing several charges after being arrested in 2016, including a charge of aggravated battery of a pregnant woman.

Why it matters: The initial policy sparked backlash against Spotify, as chronicled in this Bloomberg report. Several representatives for musicians, including rapper Kendrick Lamar, pushed back on Spotify’s policy and threatened to pull their music from the streaming platform if the policy remained.

As Pitchfork’s Jillian Mapes pointed out, there were too few details provided by Spotify that let people know how its policy would actually work.

A day before the official reversal, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek signaled that the company had bungled the rollout of the policy.

“It wasn’t trying to be a moral police, like who did right and who did wrong. We don’t want to be the judge and the moral police,” Ek is quoted as saying by Buzzfeed News. Ek added that the company wasn’t trying to make an example of any one artist.

Sexual misconduct allegations have lately had professional consequences for some artists, including actor Kevin Spacey, who was edited out of the movie “All the Money in the World,” and comedian Louis C.K., whose past work was entirely removed from HBO’s online platform. The attempt by Spotify to take a stand raised hypotheticals like whether a “hateful conduct” policy would also consider years-old allegations and whether it addressed both allegations and convictions. Without clear guidelines, the policy created confusion over how it could possibly address such a wide-ranging issue.

“The reality is, the amount of key figures throughout music history who could qualify as having ‘hateful conduct’ at some point is staggering and, as societal norms shift, ever-changing. Carefully parsing all of it would be a project beyond reasonable management for Spotify, and possibly for any single organization,” Pitchfork’s Mapes wrote.

5. Mass protests in Jordan could have major repercussions

Demonstrators clash with riot police during a protest in Amman, Jordan, June 2, 2018. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

Demonstrators clash with riot police during a protest in Amman, Jordan, June 2, 2018. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

Jordan’s Prime Minister Hani Mulki resigned Monday after four days of mass protests that resulted in clashes with police involving tear gas, and led to dozens injured and detained.

The protesters have been demonstrating against proposed tax increases that Mulki refused to scrap, instead punting the decision to parliament, the BBC reported. Mulki’s administration claimed the government needed the money to fund public services and that only people with higher incomes would be taxed, but protesters feared it would worsen living standards. The proposed tax hike comes amid years of a rising cost of living — the cost of fuel has increased five times in 2018 — with salaries failing to keep up. Earlier this year, bread subsidies were nixed and sales taxes were increased as part of a plan to tackle the country’s debt.

On Monday, King Abdullah II summoned Mulki to his palace and demanded the prime minister’s resignation. Reports say that Abdullah II has chosen Omar Razzaz, the education minister and a former World Bank economist, to lead a new government. [BBC]

Why it matters: Jordan is a key Western ally and political unrest could have major repercussions. The country will be receiving over a billion dollars in U.S. aid per year for the next five years, has thousands of U.S. troops stationed within its borders and provides valuable intelligence to the U.S. government.

Jordan has mostly avoided the turmoil of the Arab Spring revolutions, protests, coups and civil wars, but still bears some of the aftermath, harboring over 700,000 refugees — including more than 650,000 Syrians, according to the United Nations. Neighboring war-torn Syria, Jordan possesses the second highest proportion of refugees to population in the world, according to the U.N. and further clouds an already gloomy economic forecast.

It’s unclear whether Mulki’s successor Razzaz will embrace the tax increases, but with an unemployment rate above 18 percent, a regional refugee crisis, increasing living costs, mass protests and a changing government, Jordan’s internal stability is being tested at a time when instability is always at its doorstep.

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